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THE PATH 
OF LIFE 



^;;Eiri^.ktcTA.st,;inir.fiy-Tpy 






1 


P^R uls ki li •■T^ tj[' 


^m 



THE 
PATH OF LIFE 



STIJN STREUVELS 



Translated from the Wjst-Flemish by 
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS 



New YORK 
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 

\A11 rigtts rtserved) 
S 



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^y 

//<; 



First published in 19 15 



Copyright UtS.A. by Alexander 
Teixeira de Mattos^ 1904-1915 

UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, PRINTERS, WOKING AND LONDON 



TRANSLATOR'S NOTE 

T N introducing this new writer to the 
English-speaking public, I may be 
permitted to give a few particulars of 
himself and his life. Stijn Streuvels is 
accepted not only in Belgium, but also 
in Holland as the most distinguished 
Low-Dutch author of our time : his 
vogue, in fact, is even greater in the 
North Netherlands than in the southern 
kingdom. And I will go further and 
say that I know no greater living writer 
of imaginative prose in any land or any 
language. His medium is the West- 
Flemish dialect, which is spoken by per- 
haps a million people inhabiting the 
stretch of country that forms the province 



Translator's Note 

of West Flanders and is comprised within 
the irregular triangle outlined by the 
North Sea on the west, the French frontier 
of Flanders on the south and a line drawn 
at one-third of the distance between Bruges 
and Ghent on the east. In addition to 
Bruges and Ostend, this province of West 
Flanders includes such towns as Poperinghe, 
Ypres and Courtrai ; and so subtly sub- 
divided is the West-Flemish dialect that 
there are words which a man of Bruges 
will use to a man of Poperinghe and not 
be understood. 

It is one of the most interesting dialects 
known to me, containing numbers of 
mighty mediaeval words which survive in 
daily use ; and it is one of the richest : 
rich especially — and this is not usual in 
dialects — in words expressive of human 
characteristics and of physical sensations. 

Thus there is a word to describe a man 
6 



Translator's Note 

who is not so much a poor wretch, un 
misirable, as what Tom Hood loved to 
call " a hapless wight : " one who is poor 
and wretched and outcast and out of 
work, not through any fault of his own, 
through idleness or fecklessness, but 
through sheer ill-luck. There is a word 
to describe what we feel when we hear 
the tearing of silk or the ripping of 
calico, a word expressing that sense of 
angry irritation which gives a man a 
gnawing in the muscles of the arms, a 
word that tells what we really feel in our 
hair when we pretend that it " stands on 
end." It is a sturdy, manly dialect, more- 
over, spoken by a fine, upstanding race of 
" chaps," *' fellows," " mates," " wives," 
and " women -persons," for your Fleming 
rarely talks of " men " or " women." 
It is also a very beautiful dialect, having 
many words that possess a charm all their 
7 



Translator's Note 

own. Thus monkelen, the West-Flemish 
for the verb " to smile," is prettier and has 
an archer sound than its Dutch equivalent, 
glimlachen. And it is a dialect of suffi- 
cient importance to boast a special 
dictionary {Westvlaamsch Idiotikon, by the 
Rev. L. L. De Bo: Bruges, 1873) of 
1,488 small-quarto pages, set in double 
column. 

In translating Streuvels' sketches, I have 
given a close rendering : to use a homely 
phrase, their flavour is very near the 
knuckle ; and I have been anxious to lose 
no more of it than must inevitably be lost 
through the mere act of translation. I 
hope that I may be forgiven for one or 
two phrases, which, though not existing, 
so far as I am aware, in any country or 
district where the English tongue is 
spoken, are not entirely foreign to the 
genius of that tongue. Here and there. 



Translator's Note 

but only where necessary, I have added 
an explanatory foot-note. 

For those interested in such matters, I 
may say that Stijn Streuvels' real name is 
Frank Lateur. He is a nephew of Guido 
Gezelle, the poet-priest, whose statue graces 
the public square at Courtrai, unless indeed 
by this time those shining apostles of 
civilization, the Germans, have destroyed 
it. Until ten years ago, when he began 
to come into his own, he lived at Avelghem, 
in the south-east corner of West Flanders, 
hard by Courtrai and the River Lys, and 
there baked bread for the peasant-fellows 
and peasant-wives. For you must know 
that this foremost writer of the Nether- 
lands was once a baker and stood daily at 
sunrise, bare-chested, before his glowing 
oven, drawing bread for the folk of his 
village. The stories and sketches in the 
present volume all belong to that period. 
9 



Translator's Note 

Of their number, Christmas Night, A 
Pipe or no Pipe, On Sundays and The End 
have appeared in the Fortnightly Review, 
which was the first to give Stijn Streuvels 
the hospitality of its pages ; In Early 
Winter and White Life in the English 
Review ; The White Sand-path in the 
Illustrated London News; An Accident in 
Everyman ; and Loafing in the Ladys 
Realm. The remainder are now printed 
in English for the first time. 

ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS. 
Chelsea, tApril, 1915. 



CONTENTS 



TRANSLATOR S NOTE 


5 


I. 


THE WHITE SAND-PATH 


• 15 


II. 


IN EARLY W^INTER . 


• 35 


III. 


CHRISTMAS NIGHT . 


■ 45 


IV. 


LOAFING 


. 61 


V. 


SPRING 


• 73 


VI. 


IN THE SQUALL 


• 193 


VII. 


A PIPE OR NO PIPE 


. 205 


VIII. 


ON SUNDAYS 


• 213 


IX. 


AN ACCIDENT 


. 225 


X. 


WHITE LIFE 


• 247 


XI. 


THE END . 


. 283 



THE WHITE SAND-PATH 



THE WHITE SAND-PATH 

T WAS a devil of a scapegrace in my 
•*■ time. No tree was too high for me, 
no water too deep ; and, when there was 
mischief going, I was the ring-leader of 
the band. Father racked his head for 
days together to find a punishment that I 
should remember ; but it was all no good : 
he wore out three or four birch-rods on 
my back ; his hands pained him merely 
from hitting my hard head ; and bread 
and water was a welcome change to me 
from the everyday monotony of potatoes 
and bread-and-butter. After a sound 
drubbing followed by half a day's fast- 
ing, I felt more like laughing than like 
IS 



The Path of Life 

crying ; and, in half a while, all was 
forgotten and my wickedness began 
afresh and worse than ever. 

One summer's evening, I came home 
in fine fettle. I and ten of my school- 
fellows had played truant : we had gone 
to pick apples in the priest's orchard ; 
and we had pulled the burgomaster's 
calf into the brook to teach it to swim, 
but the banks were too high and the 
beast was drowned. Father, who had 
heard of these happenings, laid hold of 
me in a rage and gave me a furious 
trouncing with a poker, after which, in- 
stead of turning me into the road, as 
his custom was, he caught me up fair 
and square, carried me to the loft, flung 
me down on the floor and bolted the 
trap-door behind him. 

In the loft ! Heavenly goodness, in 
the loft ! 

Of an evening I never dared think 
of the place ; and in bright sunshine 
i6 



The White Sand-Path 

I went there but seldom and then always 
in fear. 

I lay as dead, pinched my eyes to and 
pondered on my wretched plight. 'Twas 
silent all around ; I heard nothing, 
nothing. That lasted pretty long, till 
I began to feel that the boards were so 
hard and that my body, which had been 
thrashed black and blue, was hurting me. 
My back was stiff and my arms and 
legs grew cold. And yet I nor wished 
nor meant to stir : that was settled in my 
head. In the end, it became unbear- 
able : I drew in my right leg, shifted 
my arm and carefully opened my eyes. 
Twas so ghastly, oh, so frightfully 
dark and warm : I could see the warm 
darkness ; so funny, that steep, slanting 
tiled roof, crossed by black rafters, 
beams and laths, and all that space 
beyond, which disappeared in the dark 
ridgework : 'twas like a deserted, 
haunted booth at a fair, during the 
n B 



The Path of Life 

night. Over my head, like threaten- 
ing blunderbusses, old trousers and 
jackets hung swinging, with empty arms 
and legs : they looked just like fellows 
that had been hanged ! And it grew 
darker, steadily darker. 

My eyes stood fixed and I heard my 
breath come and go. I pondered how 
'twould end here. That lasting silence 
affrighted me ; the anxious waiting for 
that coming night : to have to spend 
a long, long night here alone ! My 
hair itched and pricked on my head. 
And the rats ! I gave a great loud scream. 
It rang in anguish through the sloping 
vault of the loft. I listened as it died 
away . . . and nothing followed. I 
screamed again and again and went on, 
till my throat was torn. 

The gruesome thought of those rats 

and of that long night drove me mad 

with fear. I rolled about on the floor, 

1 struck out with my arms and legs, 

i8 



The White Sand-Path 

like one possessed, in violent, childish 
fury. Then, worn out, I let my arms 
and legs rest ; at last, tired, swallowed 
up in my helplessness, left without will 
or feeling, I waited for what was to 
come. I had terribly wicked thoughts : 
of escaping from the house, of setting 
fire to the house, of murder I I was an 
outcast, I was being tortured. I should 
have liked to show them what I could do, 
who I was ; to see them hunting for me 
and crying ; and then to run away, always 
farther away, and never come back again. 

Downstairs, the plates and forks were 
clattering for supper. I was not hungry ; 
I did not wish nor mean to eat. I 
heard soft, quiet voices talking : that 
made me desperate ; they were not 
speaking of me ! They had no thought 
nor care for the miscreant ; they would 
liefst have him dead, out of the way. 
And I was in the loft ! 

Later, very much later, I heard my 
19 



The Path of Life 

little brother's voice saying evening 
prayers — I would not pray — and then 
I heard nothing more, nothing ; and I 
lay there, upstairs, lonely and forlorn. . . . 
I walked all alone in the forest, 
through the brushwood. 'Twas half-dark 
below ; but, above the bushes, the sun 
was playing as through a green curtain, I 
went on and on. The bushes here grew 
thick now and the tiny path was lost. 
After long creeping and stumbling, I 
leapt across a ditch and entered the 
wide drove. It did not seem strange 
to me that 'twas even darker here and 
that the light, instead of from above, 
came streaming low down from between 
the trunks of the trees. The vault was 
closed leaf-tight and the trunks hung 
down from out of it like pillars. 'Twas 
silent all around. I went, as I thought 
that I must see the sun, round behind 
the trunks, half anxious at last to get 
out of that magic forest ; but new trees 



The White Sand-Path 

kept coming up, as though out of the 
ground, and hid the sun. I would have 
liked to run, but felt I know not what 
in my legs that made me drag myself on. 
Far beyond, on the road-side grass, 
sat two boyS; It was . . . but no, they 
were sitting there too glumly ! I went 
up to them and, after all, knew them 
for Sarelke and Lowietje, the village- 
constable's children. They sat with 
their legs in the ditch, their elbows on 
their knees, earnestly chatting. I sat 
down beside them, but they did not 
even look up, did not notice me. Those 
two boys, my schoolmates, the worst two 
scamps in the village, sat there like two 
worn-out old fogies : they did not know 
me. This ought to have surprised me, 
and yet I thought that it must be right 
and that it had always been so. They 
chatted most calmly of the price of 
marbles, of the way to tell the best 
hoops, of buying a new box of tin soldiers ; 

31 



The Path of Life 

and they mumbled their words as slowly 
as the priest in his pulpit. I became 
uncomfortable, felt ill at ease in that 
stifling air, under that half-dusk of the 
twilight, where everything was happening 
so earnestly, so very slowly and so heavily. 
I, who was all for sport and child's-play, 
now found my own chums so altered ; 
and they no longer knew me. I would 
have liked to shout, to grip them hard 
by the shoulder and call out that it 
was I : I, I, I ! But I durst not, or 
could not. 

"There — comes — the — keeper," droned 
Sarelke. 

Lowietje looked down the drove with 
his great glassy eyes. The two boys 
stood up and, without speaking, shuffled 
away. I saw them get smaller and smaller, 
till they became two black, hovering 
little specks that vanished round the 
bend. 

I was alone again ! Alone, with all 



The White Sand-Path 

those trees, in that frightful silence all 
around me. And the keeper, where was 
he ? He would come, I knew it ; and I 
felt afraid of the awful fellow. I must 
get away from this, I must hide myself. 
I lay down, very slowly, deep in the 
ditch. I now felt that I had been long, 
long dead and that I was lying here 
alone, waiting for I forget what. That 
keeper : was there such a person } He 
now seemed to me an awesome clod of 
earth, which came rolling down, slowly 
but steadily, and which would fall heavily 
upon me. Then he turned into a lovely 
white ashplant, which stood there waving 
its boughs in a stately manner. I would 
let him go past and then would go away. 
People were waiting for me, I had to be 
somewhere : I tried mightily to remember 
where, but could not. 

The keeper did not come. 

The ditch was cold, the bottom was 
of smooth, worn stone and very hard. I 
23 



The Path of Life 

lay there with gleaming eyes : above my 
head stood the giant oaks, silently, and 
their knotted branches ran up and were 
lost in the dark sky. 

The keeper came, I heard his coming ; 
and the wind blew fearfully through the 
trees. I shivered. . . . 

I woke with fright and I was still 
lying in my loft. The hard bottom of 
the ditch was the boarded floor and 
the tree-trunks were the legs of father's 
trousers and the branches ran up and 
were lost in the darksome roofwork. 
Two sharp rays of light beamed through 
the shut dormer-window. It must be day 
then ! And this awful night was past ! 
All my dismay was gone and a bold 
feeling came over me, something like the 
feeling of gladness that follows on a solved 
problem. I would make Lowietje and 
Sarelke and all the boys at school hark 
to my tale, that I would ! I had slept a 
whole night alone in the loft ! And the 
34 



The White Sand-Path 

rats ! And the ghosts ! Ooh ! And 
not a whit afraid ! 

I got up, but that was such a slow 
business. I still felt that dream and 
that slackness in my limbs. I was so 
stiff ; that heavy gloom, that slow pass- 
ing of time still lingered — just as in my 
dream — in my slow breathing. I still 
saw that forest and, shut up as I was, 
with not a single touchstone for my 
thoughts, I began to doubt if my dream 
was done and I had to feel the trouser- 
legs to make sure that they were not 
really trees. 

Time stood still and there was no 
getting out of my mind the strange 
things seen in that dream-forest, with 
those earnest, sluggish, elderly children 
and that queer keeper. 'Twas as though 
some one were holding my arms and 
legs tight to make them move heavily, 
deadly heavily ; and I felt myself, within 
my head, grown quite thirty years older, 
25 



The Path of Life 

become suddenly an old man. I walked 
about the loft ; I wanted to make my- 
self heard, but my footsteps gave no sound. 

I grew awfully hungry. Near the 
ladder-door, I found my prison fare, I 
nibbled greedily at my crust of bread 
and took a good drink of water. 

I now felt better, but this doing 
nothing wearied me ; I became sad and 
felt sorry to be sitting alone. If things 
had gone their usual gait, I should now 
be with my mates at school or playing 
somewhere under the open sky ; and that 
open sky now first revealed all its delight- 
fulness. The usual gait, when all was 
said, was by far the best. . . . All alone 
like this, up here. . . . Should I go 
down and beg father's pardon ? Then 
'twould all be over and done with. . . . 

" No ! " said something inside me, " I 
stay here ! " 

And I stayed. 

I shoved a box under the dormer- 
26 



The White Sand-Path 

window, I pushed open the wooden 
shutter . . . and there ! Before me lay 
the wide stretch in the blazing sunhght ! 
My eyes were quite bhnd with it. 

'Twas good up here and funny to see 
everything from so high up, so endlessly 
far ! And the people were no bigger 
than tiny tadpoles ! 

Just under my dormer-window came 
a path, a white sand-path winding from 
behind the house and then running for- 
wards to the horizon in a line straight 
as an arrow. It looked like a naked 
strip of ground, powdered white and 
showing up sharply, like a flat snake, 
in the middle of the green fields which, 
broken into their many-coloured squares, 
lay blinking in the sun. 

This path was deserted, lonely, as 
though nor man nor beast had ever 
trodden it. It lay very near the house 
and I did not know it from up here ; 
it looked now like a long strip of drab 

27 



The Path of Life 

linen, which lay bleaching in a bound- 
less meadow. And that again suited my 
loneliness so well ! At last, I looked and 
saw nothing more. And that path ! . . . 

Slowly, overcome by that silent, rest- 
ful idleness, I fell a-dreaming ; and that 
path, that long, white path seemed to me 
to have become a part of my own being, 
something like a life that began over 
there, far away yonder in the clear blue, 
to end in the unknown, here, behind the 
gable-end, cut off at that fatal bend. 

After long looking, I saw something, 
very far off ; It came so slowly, so softly, 
like a thing that grows, and those two 
little black patches grew into two romping 
schoolboys, who, rolling and leaping 
along, came running down the white 
sand-path and, at last, disappeared in the 
bend behind the gable-end. 

Then, for another long while, nothing 
more, nothing but sand, green and sun- 
shine. 

28 



The White Sand-Path 

Later, 'twas three labourers, who came 
stepping up briskly, with their gear over 
their shoulders. Half-way up the path, 
they jumped across the ditch and went to 
work in the field. They toiled on, with- 
out looking up or round, toiled on till 
I got tired of watching and tired of those 
three stooping men and of seeing that 
gleaming steel flicker in. the sun and go 
in and out of the earth. 

When now 'twas mid-day and fiercely 
hot in my loft, my three labourers sat 
down behind a tree and ate their noon- 
day meal. 

I went to the loft-door and devoured 
my second crust of bread and took a 
fresh gulp of water. 

Very calmly, without thinking, lame 
with the heat and with that old-man's 
feeling still inside me, I went and sat 
at the window. 

The three men worked on, always, 
without stopping. 

29 



The Path of Life 

And that went on, went on, until tlie 
evening ! When 'twas nearly dark, they 
gathered up their tools, jumped over the 
ditch, walked down the path the way they 
had come and disappeared behind the 
gable-end. 

Now it became deadly. 

In the distance appeared a great black 
patch, which came slowly nearer and 
nearer. The patch turned into a lazy, 
slow-stepping ox, with a jolting, creaking 
waggon, in which sat a little old man 
who gazed stupidly in front of him into 
the dark distance. The cart dragged 
along wearily, creeping through the sand, 
and first the ox, then the little fellow, 
then the waggon disappeared behind the 
gable-end. 

Now I felt something like fear and I 
shivered : the evening was coming so 
slowly, so sadly ; and I dared not think 
of the night that was to follow. 'Twas 
the first time in my life that I fell 
30 



The White Sand-Path 

earnestly a-thinking. So that path there 
became a life, a long-drawn-out, earnest 
life. . . . That was quite plain in my 
head ; and those boys had rolled and 
tumbled along that path ; next, those big 
men had burdensomely, most burden- 
somely turned over their bit of earth ; 
and the ox and the little old fellow had 
joggled along it so piteously. . . . That 
life was so earnest and I had seen it all 
from so far, from the outside of it : I 
did nothing, I took no part in it and yet 
I lived . . . and must also one day go 
along that path ! 

And how ? 

Getting up in the morning, eating, 
playing, going to school, misbehaving, 
playing, eating, sleeping. . . . 

The mist rose out of the fields and I 
saw nothing more. 

I jumped ofF my box, begged father's 
pardon and crept into bed. 

N'ever again was I shut up in the loft. 
3' 



IN EARLY WINTER 



II 

IN EARLY WINTER 

FIRST the leaves had become pale, 
deathly pale ; later they turned 
yellow-brown ; and then they went 
fluttering and flickering, so wearily, so 
slaclcly, like the wings of dying birds ; 
and, one after the other, they began to 
fall, dancing gently downwards, in eddies. 
They whirled in the air, were carried 
on by the wind and at last fell dead 
and settled somewhere in the mud. 

Not a living thing was to be seen 
and the cottages that sat huddled close 
to the ground remained fast shut ; the 
smoke from the chimneys alone still gave 
a sign of life. 

35 



The Path of Life 

The green drove now stood bare and 
bleak : two rows of straight trunks which 
grew less and faded away in the blue 
mist. 

Yonder comes something creeping up : 
a shapeless thing, like two little black 
stripes, with something else ; and it 
approaches. . . . 

At last and at length, out of those 
little stripes, appear a man and a wife ; 
and, out of the other thing, a barrel-organ 
on a cart, with a dog between the wheels. 

It all looked the worse for wear. The 
little fellow went bent between the shafts 
and tugged ; the little old woman's lean 
arms pushed against the organ-case ; and 
the wheeled thing jolted on like that 
over the cart-ruts, along the drove and 
through the wide gate of an honest home- 
stead. 

A flight of black crows sailed across 
the sky. The wind soughed through the 
naked tree-tops ; the mist rose and 
36 



In Early Winter 

the world thinned away in a bluey haze ; 
this all vanished and slowly it became 
dark black night. 

Man, woman and dog, they crept, all 
three, high into the loft and deep into the 
hay ; and they dozed away, like all else 
outside them and around. Warm they lay 
there ! And dream they did, of the cold, 
of the dark and of the sad moaning 
wind ! 

At early morning, before it was bright 
day, they were on the tramp, over the 
fallow fields, and drowned in a huge sea 
of thick blue mist. They pulled for all 
they could : the little fellow in the shafts, 
the little old woman behind the cart and 
the dog, with his head to the ground, 
for the road's sake. 

A red glow broke in the east and a 
new day brightened. 'Twas all white, 
snow-white, as if the blue mist had 
bleached, melted and stuck fast on the 
black fields, on the half-withered autumn 
37 



The Path of Life 

fruits and on the dark fretwork of the trees. 
Great drops dripped from the boughs. 

From under the peak of his cap, the 
fellow peered into the distance with his 
one eye, and he saw a church and houses. 
They went that way. 

'Twas low-roofed cottages they saw, 
all covered with hoar-frost ; here and 
there stood one alone and then a whole 
little row, crowded close together : a 
street. 

They were in the village. 

It was lone and still, like a cloister, 
with here a little woman who, tucked 
into her hooded cloak, crept along the 
houses to the church ; there a smith who 
hammered . . . and the little church-bell, 
which tinkled over the house-tops. 

They stopped. The dog sat down to 
look. The little fellow threw off his 
shoulder-strap, pulled his cap down lower 
and felt under the red-brown organ-cloth 
for the handle. He gave a look at the 
38 



In Early Winter 

houses that stood before him, pinched 
his sunken mouth, wiped the seam 
of his sleeve over his face and started 
grinding. Half-numbed sounds came 
trickling into the chill street from under 
the organ-cloth : a sad — once, perhaps, 
dance-provoking — tune, which now, false, 
dragging and twisted out of shape, was like 
a muddled crawling of sounds all jumbled 
up together ; some came too soon, the 
others too late, as in a weariful dream ; 
and, in between, a sighing and creaking 
which came from very deep down, at each 
third or fourth turn, and was deadened 
again at once in those ever-recurring 
rough organ-sounds or dragged on and 
deafened in a mad dance. 'Twas like a 
poor little huddled soul uttering its plaint 
amid the hullabaloo of rude men shout- 
ing aloud in the street. 

The dog also had begun to howl when 
the tune started. 

The little wife had settled her kerchief 
39 



The Path of Life 

above her sharp-featured old-wife's face ; 
and, with one hand in her apron-pocket 
and the other holding a little tin can, 
she now went from door to door : 

" For the poor blind man. . . . God 
reward you." 

And this through the whole street and 
farther, to the farmhouses, from the one 
to the other, all day long, till evening 
fell again and that same thick mist came 
to wrap everything in its grey, dark 
breath. 

And again they wandered, through a 
drove, to a homestead and into the hay. 

" The dog has pupped," said the little 
old woman ; and she shook her man. 

"Pupped? . . ." 

And he turned in the nest which he 
had made for himself, pushed his head 
deeper in the hay and drowsed on. He 
dreamt of dogs and of pups and of 
organs and of ear-splitting yelps and 
howls. 

40 



In Early Winter 

The dog lay in a fine, round little 
nest of his own, rolled into a ball and 
moaning. And he i looked so sadly and 
kindly into the little old woman's eyes ; 
and he licked, never stopped licking his 
puppies. They were like three red-brown 
moles, each with a fat head ; they wrig- 
gled their thick little bodies together and 
sought about and squeaked. 

When the tramps had swallowed their 
slice of rye-bread and their dish of 
porridge, they went on, elsewhither. The 
little fellow tugged, the little old woman 
pushed and the dogs hung swinging 
between the wheels, in a fig-basket. So 
they went begging, from hamlet to 
hamlet, the wide world through : an old 
man and woman, with their organ ; and 
a dog with his three young pups. 

Much later. . . . 

' The West-Fleming talks of dogs of either sex 
invariably as " he." 

41 



The Path of Life 

The thick mist had changed into 
bright, glittering dewdrops and the sun 
shone high in the heaven. Now four 
dogs lay harnessed to the cart, four red- 
brown dogs. And, when the handle 
turned and the organ played, all those 
four dogs lifted their noses on high and 
howled uglily. 

Inside, deep-hidden under the organ- 
cloth, sat the little soul, the mysterious, 
shabby little organ-soul, grown quite 
hoarse now and almost dumb. 



42 



CHRISTMAS NIGHT 



Ill 

CHRISTMAS NIGHT 

OVER there, high up among the pines, 
stood the house where he lived 
alone with the trees and the birds ; and 
there, every morning, he saw the sun 
rise and, in the evening, sink away again. 
And for how many years ! 

In summer, the white clouds floated 
high over his head ; the blackbirds sang 
in the wood around his door ; and before 
him, in a blue vista, lay the whole 
world. 

When his harvest was gathered and the 

days drew in, when the sky closed up, 

when the dry pines shook and rocked in 

the sad wind and the crows dropped like 

45 



The Path of Life 

black flakes and came cawing over the 
fields, he closed his windows and sat 
down in the dark to brood. 

He must go down yonder now, to 
the village below. 

He fetched his Christmas star from the 
loft, restuck the gold flowers and paper 
strips and fastened them In the cleft of the 
long wand. Then he put on his great- 
coat, drew the hood over his head and 
went. 

From behind the black clouds came 
a light, a dull copper glow, without rays, 
high up where the stars were ; it set 
golden edges to the hem of the clouds ; 
the heaven remained black. There ap- 
peared a little streak of glowing copper, 
which grew and grew, became a sickle, 
a half-disk and at last a great, round, 
giant gold moon, which rose and rose. 
It went up like a huge round orange 
behind the heaven and, more and more 
swiftly, shot up into the sky, growing 
46 



Christmas Night 

smaller and smaller, till it became just 
a common moon, the laughing moon 
among the stars. 

He alone had seen it. 

Now he took his star on his shoulder, 
pulled his hood deep over his head and 
wandered down the little path, all over 
the snow, to where the lights were burning. 
It was lonely, lifeless, that white plain 
under that burnished sky ; and he was all 
alone, the black fellow on the snow. And 
he saw the world so big, so monotonously 
bleak ; a flat, white wilderness, with here 
and there a straight, thin poplar and a 
row of black, lean, knotty willows. 

He went down towards the lights. 

The village lay still. The street was 
black with people. Great crowds of 
womenfolk, tucked and muflled in black 
hooded cloaks, tramped as in a dream 
along the houses, over the squeaking 
snow. They shuffled from door to door, 
stuck out their bony hands and asked 
47 



The Path of Life 

plaintively for their God's-penny. They 
disappeared at the end of the street and 
went trudging into the endless moonlight. 
Children went with lights and stars 
and stood gathered in groups, their black 
faces glowing in the shine of their 
lanterns ; they made a huge din with 
their tooting-horns ' and rumble-pot ^ 
and sang of 



The Babe born in the straw 



and 



The shepherds they come here. 
They're bringing wood and fire 
And this and that and t'other : 
Now bring us a pot of beer. 

Mad Wanne went alone ; she kept 
on lurching across the street with her 
long legs, which stuck out far from under 
her skirt, and held her arms wide open 

" A cow's horn fitted with a mouthpiece. 
= An iron pot with a bladder stretched across 
the top, beaten with sticks, like a drum. 
48 



Christmas Night 

under her hooded cloak, like a demon bat. 
She snuffled something about : 

'Twas hailing, 'twas snowing and 'twas bad 

weather 
And over the roofs the wind it flew. 

Saint Joseph said to Mary Maid : 

" Mary, what shall we do ? " 

Top I Dras, Wulf and Grendel, three 
fellows, tall as trees, were also loafing 
round. They were the three Kings : 
Top had turned his big jacket and 
blackened his face ; Grendel wore a white 
sheet over his back and blew the horn ; 
and Wulf had a mitre on and carried a 
great star with a lantern on a stick. So 
they dragged along the street, singing 
at every door : 

Three Kings with a star 
Came travelling from afar. 

Over mountains, hills and dale. 
To go and look 
In every nook. 

To go and look for the Lord of All. 

' Beggar. 

49 O 



The Path of Life 

Their rough voices droned and three 
great shadows walked far ahead of them 
on the white street-snow. All those 
people came and went and twisted and 
turned and came and went again. Each 
sang his own little song and fretted his 
whining prayer. Above all this rose 
the dull toot of the baker's horn, as he 
kept on shouting : 

" Hot bread ! Hot bread ! " 

High hung the moon and blinked the 
stars ; and fine white shafts fell through 
the air, upon everything around, like 
silver pollen. 

" Maarten of the mountain ! " whis- 
pered the children behind the window, 
" Maarten the Freezyman ! " ' 

And they crept back into the kitchen, 
beside the fire. 

And the black man stood outside the 

' A legendary figure of a snow-covered bogie, who 
comes down to the villages at Christmas-time and 
runs away with the children. 

SO 



Christmas Night 

door, tugging at the string of his twirling 
star, and sang through his nose : 

Come, star, come, star, you must not so still stand ! 
You must go with me to Bethlehem Land, 
To Bethlehem, that comely city, 
Where Mary sits with her Babe on her knee. . . . 

Along the country-roads, the farm- 
houses stood snowed in, with black 
window-shutters, which showed dark 
against the walls and shut in the light, 
and stumpy chimneys, with thick smoke 
curling from them. Indoors, there was 
no seeing clearly : the lamp hung from the 
ceiling in a ring of steam and smoke and 
everything lay black and tumbled. In 
the hearth, the yule-log lay blazing. The 
farmer's wife baked waffles and threw 
them in batches on the straw-covered 
floor. 

In one corner, under the light and wound 
from head to foot in tobacco-smoke, were 
the farm-hands, playing cards. They sat 
SI 



The Path of Life 

wrapped up in their game, bending over 
their little table, very quiet. Now and 
then came a half-oath and the thud of 
a fist on the table and then again peace- 
ful shuffling and stacking and playing of 
their cards. 

The Freezyman sat in the midst of the 
children, who listened open-mouthed to 
his tale of The Mighty Hunter. 

His star stood in the corner. 

Later, the big table was drawn out and 
supper served. All gathered round and 
sat down and ate. First came potatoes 
and pork, red kale and pigs' chaps, 
then stewed apples and sausages . . . and 
waffles, waffles, waffles. They drank beer 
out of little glass mugs. The table was 
cleared, coffee poured out, spirits fetched 
from the cupboard and gin burnt with 
sugar. Then the chairs were pushed 
close, right round the hearth, and 
Maarten stood up, took his star, smoothed 
his long beard and, keeping time by 

S2 



Christmas Night 

tugging the string of his star, droned 
out : 

On Christmas night 

Is Jesus born 
To fight our fight 
Against the night 

Of Satan and his devil-spawn. 
And a manger is His cot 
And all humble is His lot ; 
So, mortal, make you humble, too. 
To serve Him IVho thus served you. 

Three wise men and each a king 

Come to make Him offering ; 

Gold, frankincense and myrrh they bring. 

Angels sweet 

Kiss His feet, 

As they sing : 

" Hail, Lord and King ! " 
Telling all mankind the story 
Of His wonder and His glory ; 
So, mortal, make you humble, too. 
To serve Him Who thus served you. 

All else was still. The men sat drink- 
ing their hot gin, the children listened 
with their heads on one side and the 
53 



The Path of Life 

farmer's wife, with her hands folded over 
her great lap, sat crying. 

The door opened and the Kings stood 
in the middle of the floor. They were 
white with snow and their faces blue with 
cold ; the ice hung from Grendel's mous- 
tache. They looked hard under their hats 
at the table, the hearth and the little glasses 
and at Maarten, who was still standing up. 
Wulf made his star turn, Top banged his 
rumble-pot to time and they sang : 

Three Kings came out of the East ; 
'Twas to comfort Mary . . . 

When the song was ended, each got 
two little glasses ; then they could go. 

Grendel cursed aloud. 

" That damned hill-devil swallows it all 
up," muttered Wulf 

And they went off through the snow. 

The others sang and played and played 
cards for ever so long and 'twas late when 
Maarten took his star and, with a "Good- 
54 



Christmas Night 

night till next year," pulled the door 
behind him. 

It was still light outside, but the sky 
hung full of snow ; above, a grey fleece 
and, lower, a swirl of great white flakes, 
which fell down slowly swarming one on 
top of the other. 

He plunged deep into it. . . . It was 
still so far to go ; and his house and his 
pines, he had left them all so far behind. 

He was so old, so lone ; it was so cold ; 
and all the roads were white ... all sky 
and snow. In the hollow lay the village : 
a little group of sleeping houses round 
the white church-steeple ; and behind it 
lay his mountain, but it was like a cloud, 
a shapeless monster, very far away. 

Above his head, stars, stars in long 
rows. He stood still and looked up and 
found one which he saw every evening, 
a pale, dead star, like an old acquaintance, 
which would lead him — for the last time, 
perhaps — back to his mountain, back home. 
55 



The Path of Life 

And he trudged on. 

There was a light in the three narrow 
pointed windows of the chapel and the 
bell tinkled within. He went to rest a 
bit against the wall. What a noise and 
what a bustle all the evening . . . and 
the gin ! And those rough chaps had 
looked at him so brutally. In there, it 
was still ; those windows gleamed so 
brightly ; and, after the sound of the bell, 
there came so softly a woman's voice : 

" Venite adoremus . . ." 

Then all was silence, the lights went 
out. And he fared on. 

The village lay behind him and the 
road began to climb. There, on the 
right, stood " The Jolly Hangman." 
Now he knows his way and 'tis no longer 
far from home. From out of the ditch 
comes something creeping, a black shape 
that runs across the plain, chattering 
like a magpie : Mad Wanne, with her 
thin legs and her cloak wide open. She 
56 



Christmas Night 

ran as fast as she could run and vanished 
behind the inn. 

He had started ; he became so fright- 
ened, so uneasy, that he hastened his 
steps and longed to be at home. 

There was still a light in "The Jolly 
Hangman " and a noise of drunken men. 
He passed, but then turned back again . . . 
to sing his last song, according to old 
custom. They opened the door and 
asked him in. He saw Grendel sitting 
there and tried to get away. Then the 
three of them rushed out and called after 
him. When they saw that he went on, 
they broke into a run : 

" Stop, you brute ! . . . Here, you 
with your star ! . . . Oh, you damned 
singer of songs ! " they howled and ran 
and caught him and threw him down. 

Grendel dug his knee into his chest 

and held his arms stretched wide against 

the ground. Wulf and Dras gripped 

whole handfuls of snow and crammed it 

5/ 



The Path of Life 

into his mouth and went on until all his 
face was thickly covered and he lay 
powerless. Then they planted his star 
beside him in the snow and began to 
turn and sing to the echo : 

A, a, a — glory be to Him on high to-day ! 
E, e, e — upon earth peace there shall be I 
/, /, 2 — come and see with your own eye ! 
O, 0, — His little bed of straw below ! 

Like a flash, Mad Wanne shot past, 
yelling and shrieking. Wulf flung his 
stick against her legs. She waved her arms 
under her cloak and vanished in the dark. 

The three men sat down by the ditch 
and laughed full-throated. Then they 
started for the village. Long it rang : 

Three Kings came out of the East ; 
'Twas to comfort Mary . . , 

Great white flakes fell from the starry 
sky, wriggled and swarmed, one on top 
of the other. 

S8 



LOAFING 



IV 

LOAFING 

T T E went, ever on the move, with 
^ -*■ the slow, shuffling step of wander- 
ing beggars who are nowhere at home. 

They had discharged him, some time 
ago, and now he was walking alone like 
a wild man. For whole days he had 
dragged himself through the moorland, 
from farm to farm, looking for his bread 
like the dogs. Now he came to a wide 
lane of lime-trees and before him lay the 
town, asleep. He went into it. The 
streets lay dead, the doors were shut, 
the windows closed : all the people were 
resting ; and he loafed. It was dreary, 
to walk alone like that, all over the 
6i 



The Path of Life 

country-side, and with such a body : a 
giant with huge legs and arms, which 
were doomed to do nothing, and that 
belly, that craving belly, which he carried 
about with him wherever he went. 

And nobody wanted him ; 'twas as 
though they were afraid of his strong 
limbs and his stubborn head — because his 
glowing eyes could not entreat meekly 
enough — and his blackguardly togs. . . . 

Morning came ; the working-folk were 
early astir. Lean men and pale women, 
carrying their kettles and food-satchels 
in their hands, beat the slippery pave- 
ments with their wooden shoes. Doors 
and windows flew open ; life began ; 
every one walked with a busy air, knew 
where he was going ; and they vanished 
here and there, through a big gate or 
behind a narrow door that shut with a 
bang. Carts with green stuflF, waggons 
with sand and coal drove this way and 
that. Fellows with milk and bread went 
62 



Loafing 

round ; and it grew to a din of calls and 
cries, each shouting his loudest. 

And he loafed. Nobody looked at 
him, noticed him or wanted him. In the 
middle of the forenoon, a young lady 
had stared at him for a long time and 
said to her mother : 

"What a huge fellow !" 

He had heard her and it did him 
good. He looked round, but mother 
and daughter were gone, behind a corner, 
and stood gazing into a shop full of 
bows and ribbons. 

It began to whirl terribly in his belly ; 
and his stomach hurt him so ; and his 
legs were tired. 

The streets and houses and all those 
strange people annoyed him. He wanted 
to get away, far away, and to see men 
like himself : workers without work, who 
were hungry ! 

He looked for the narrow alleys and 
the poor quarter. 

63 



The Path of Life 

Out of a side-street a draycart came 
jogging along. Half a score of labourers 
lay tugging in the shoulder-strap or leant 
with all the force of their bodies against 
the cart, which rolled on toilsomely. 
'Twas a load of flax, packed tightly in 
great square bales standing one against 
the other, the whole cart full. The 
dray caught its right wheel in the 
grating of an open gutter and remained 
stock-still, leaning aslant, as though 
planted there. The workmen racked 
and wrung to get the wheel out, but 
it was no good. Then they stood there, 
staring at one another, at their wits' end 
and throwing glances into the eyes of 
that big fellow who had come to look 
on. Without saying or speaking, he 
caught a spoke in either hand, pressed 
with his mighty shoulder against the inside 
of the wheel, bent and wrung and in a 
turn brought the cart on the level. Then 
he went behind among the other workmen 
64 



Loafing 

to go and help them shove. They looked 
at him queerly, as if to say that they no 
longer needed his help and had rather 
done without him. The cart rolled on, 
another street or two, and then through 
the open gate of the warehouse. The 
labourers looked into one another's eyes 
uneasily, moved about, pulled the bales 
ofF the cart and dragged them a little 
farther along the wall. Then they tailed 
off, one by one, through a small inner 
door ; and he stood there alone, like a 
fool. A bit later, he heard them laugh 
and whisper under their breaths. When 
he was tired of waiting, he went up the 
street again. 

Nobody, nobody, nobody wanted him ! 

He ground his teeth and clenched his 
fists. In the street through which he 
had to go, on the spaces outside the 
hotels sat ladies and gentlemen toying 
with strange foods and sipping their wine 
out of long goblets. They chattered 
65 E 



The Path of Life 

gaily and tasted and pecked with dainty 
lips and turned-up noses. The waiters 
ran here, there, like slaves. Those coax- 
ing smells stung like adders and roused 
evil thoughts in his brain. His stomach 
fretted awfully and his empty head 
turned. 

He hurried away. 

In a street with windowless house-fronts, 
a street without people in it, he felt better. 
He let his body lean against the iron post of 
a gas-lamp, stuck his hands in his trouser- 
pockets and stood there looking at the 
paving-stones. Now he was damned if 
he would take another step, he would 
rather croak here like a beast ; then they 
would have to take him up and know 
that he existed. 

The boys coming from school mocked 
him ; they danced in a ring, with him, 
the big fellow, in the middle. They 
hung paper flags on his back and 
sang : 

66 



Loafing 

Hat, hat, 
Ugly old hat ! 
It serves as a slop-pail and as a hat ! 

He did not stir. 

Yon came a milk-maid driving up in 
a cart drawn by dogs. He got a gnawing 
in his arms, a spout of blood shot to 
his head and he suddenly felt as if some- 
thing was going to happen. Just as 
she drove past, he put his great hand 
on the edge of the little cart, with one 
pull took a copper can from its straw, 
put it to his mouth and drank ; then 
he sent the can clattering through the 
window of the first-best house, till the 
panes rattled again. Looking round — 
as if bewildered and set going, roused 
by what he had done — he caught sight 
of the frightened little dairy-maid. A 
mocking grin played on his cruel face ; 
he flung his rough arm round her little 
body and lifted the girl out of the cart 
right up to his face in a fierce hug. 
67 



The Path of Life 

The boys had fled shrieking. He 
felt two pairs of hands pulling at his 
sleeves from below. He loosed the girl 
and saw two policemen who held him 
fast and ordered him to go with them. 
They held him by the arm on either side 
and stepped hurriedly to keep pace with 
his great strides. They looked in dis- 
may at that huge fellow, with his wicked 
eyes, and then at each other, as if to ask 
what they should do. 

They came to a narrow little street, 
with nobody in it, and stopped at a 
public-house : 

" Could you do with a dram, mate ? " 
they asked him. 

He looked bewildered, astounded. 
They all three went inside ; and each of 
them drank a big glass of gin. 

The policemen whispered something 
together ; the elder wiped the drink 
from his moustache and then said, very 
severely : 

6S 



Loafing 

" And now, clear out ; hurry up ! 
And mind your manners, will you, next 
time ! " 

He was outside once more, loafing 
on, along the houses. 



69 



SPRING 



V 

SPRING 

TV yj OTHER stood like a clucking hen 
■*-'-^ among her red-cheeked youngsters. 
She was holding a loaf against her fat 
stomach and, with a curved pruning- 
knife, was cutting off good thick slices 
which the youngsters snatched away one 
by one and stuffed into their pockets. 
Horieneke fetched her basket of knit- 
ting and her school-books. She first 
pulled Fonske's stocking up once more, 
buttoned Sarelke's breeches and wiped 
Lowietje's nose ; and, with an admonish- 
ing "Straight to school, do you hear, 
boys ? " from mother, the whole band 
rushed out of the door, through the 
73 



The Path of Life 

little flower-garden and up the broad 
unmetalled road, straight towards the 
great golden sun which was rising 
yonder, far behind the pollard alders, 
in a mighty fire of rays. It was cool 
outside ; the sky was bright blue 
streaked with glowing shafts aslant the 
hazy-white clouds deep, deep in the 
heavens. Over the level fields, ever so 
far, lay a stain of pale green and 
brown ; and the slender stalks of the 
wheat stood like needles, quivering in 
their glittering moisture. The trees 
were still nearly bare ; and their trunks 
and tops stood tall and black against 
the clear sky ; but, when you saw them 
together, in rows or little clusters, there 
was a soft yellow-green colour over 
them, spotted with gleaming buds 
ready to burst. A soft wind, just warm 
enough to thaw the frost, worked its 
way into and through everything and 
made it all shake and swarm till it was 
74 



Spring 

twisted full of restless, growing life. 
That wind curled through the young- 
sters' tangled hair and coloured their 
round cheeks cherry -red. They ran and 
romped through the dry sand, stamping 
till it flew above their heads. They 
were mad with enjoyment. 

Trientje stood in the doorway, in 
her little shirt, with her stomach 
sticking out, watching her brothers as 
they disappeared ; and, when she saw 
them no longer, she thrust her fists 
into her sockets, opened her mouth 
wide and started a-crying, until mother's 
hands lifted her up by the arms and 
mother's thick lips gave her a hearty 
kiss. 

Horieneke came walking step by step 
under the lime-trees, along the narrow 
grass-path beside the sand, keeping her 
eyes fixed on the play of her knitting- 
needles. When she reached the bridge 
that crossed the brook, she looked 
75 



The Path of Life 

round after her brothers. They had run 
down the slope and were now trotting 
wildly one after the other through the 
rich brown grass, pulling up all the 
white and yellow flowers, one by one, till 
their arms were crammed with them. 
Horieneke took out her catechism, laid 
it open on the low rail and sat there 
cheerfully waiting. Sarelke had crept 
through the water-flags until he was 
close to the brook and, through the 
clear, gleaming blue water, watched a 
little fish frisking about. In a moment, 
his wooden shoes and his stockings 
were oflF and one leg was in the water, 
trying it : it was cold ; and he felt a 
shiver right down his back. Ripples 
played on the smooth blue and widened 
out to the bank. The little fish was 
gone, but so was the cold ; and he saw 
more fish, farther away : quick now, the 
other leg in the water ! He pulled his 
breeches up high and there he stood, 
76 



Spring 

with the water well above his knees, 
peering out for fish. The water was 
clear as glass ; and he saw swarms of 
them playing, darting swiftly up and 
down, to and fro like arrows : they 
shot past in shoals that held together 
like long snakes, in among the moss 
and the reeds and between the stones, 
winding through slits and crannies. 
He shouted aloud for joy. Bertje and 
Wartje and the others all had their 
stockings off and stood in the water 
bending down to look, making funnels 
of their hands in the water, where it 
rustled in little streams between two 
grass-sods through which the fish had 
to pass. Whenever they felt one 
wriggling in their hands they yelled and 
screamed and sprang out of the brook 
to put it into their wooden shoes, 
which stood on the bank, scooped 
full of water. There they loitered 
examining those beasties from close by : 
n 



The Path of Life 

those fish were theirs now ; and they 
would let them swim about in the big 
tub at home and give them a bit of 
their bread and butter every day, so 
that they might grow into great big 
pike. And now back to the runnel 
for more. 

"Boys, I'll tell mother!" cried 
Horieneke. 

But they did not hear and just kept 
on as before. FonSke had not been 
able to catch one yet and his fat legs 
were turning blue with the cold. In 
front of him stood Bertje, stooping and 
peering into the water, with his hands 
ready to grasp ; and Fonske saw such a 
lovely little runnel from his neck to half- 
way down his back, all bare skin. He 
carefully scooped his hands full of water 
and let it trickle gently inside Bertje's 
shirt. The boy growled ; and Fonske, 
screaming with laughter, skipped out of 
the brook. Now came a romping and 
7.8 



spring 

stamping in the water, a dashing and 
splashing with their hands till it turned 
to a rain of gleaming drops that fell on 
their heads and wetted their clothes 
through and through. And a bawling ! 
And a plashing with their bare legs 
till the spray spouted high over the 
bank. 

" The constable ! " cried Horieneke. 

The sport was over. Like lightning 
they all sprang out of the brook, caught 
up their wooden shoes with the little 
fish in them and ran as hard as they 
could through the grass to the bridge. 
There only did they venture to look 
round. Hurriedly they turned down 
their breeches, dried their shiny cheeks and 
dripping hair with one another's hand- 
kerchiefs and then marched all together 
through the sun and wind to school. 

In the village square they wandered 
about among the other boys, silently 
showed their catch, hid their shoes in 
79 



The Path of Life 

the hawthorn-hedge behind the church- 
yard and stayed playing until school- 
master's bell rang. 

Boys and girls, each on their own 
side, disappeared through the gate ; and 
the street was now silent as the grave. 
After a while, there came through the 
open window of the school first a sort 
of buzzing and humming and then a 
repetition in chorus, a rhythmical spell- 
ing aloud : b-u-t, but ; t-e-r, ter : butter ; 
B-a, Ba ; b-e-1, bel : Babel ; ever on and 
more and more noisily. In between it 
all, the sparrows chattered and chirped 
and fluttered safely in the powdery sand 
of the playground. 

The sun was now high in the sky and 
the light gUttered on the young leaves, 
full of the glad life of youth and gleam- 
ing with gold. 

Horieneke, with a few more children, 
was in another school. They sat, the 
boys on one side and the girls on the 
80 



Spring 

other, on long benches and were wrapped 
up in studying their communion-book 
and listening to an old nun, who ex- 
plained it to them in drawling, snuffling 
tones. After that, they had to say their 
lesson, one by one ; and this all went 
so quietly, so modestly, so easily, 'twas 
as if they had the open book before 
them. Half-way through the morning, 
they went two and two through the village 
to the church, where the priest was 
waiting to hear their catechism. This 
also went quietly ; and the questions 
and answers sounded hollow in that 
empty church. 

Horieneke sat at the head of the 
girls ; she had caught up almost half of 
them because she always knew her lessons 
so well and listened so attentively. She 
was allowed to lead the prayers and was 
the first examined ; then she sat looking 
at the priest and listening to what came 
from his lips. He always gave her a 
81 F 



The Path of Life 

kind smile and held her up to the others 
as an example of good conduct. After the 
catechism, they had leave to go and play 
in the convent-garden. In the afternoon, 
there were new lessons to be learnt and 
new explanations ; and then quietly home. 

So they lived quite secluded, alone, 
in their own little world of modesty and 
piety, preparing for , the great day. 
The other youngsters, who went their 
several ways, felt a certain awe for these 
school-fellows who once used to romp 
and fight with them and who were now 
so good, so earnest, so neat in their 
clothes and so polite. The " first-com- 
municants : " the word had something 
sacred about it which they respected ; 
and the little ones counted on their 
fingers how many years they would 
have to wait before they too were 
learning their catechism and having 
leave to play in the convent-garden. 

To her brothers Horieneke had now 
82 



Spring 

become a sacred thing, like a guardian 
angel who watched over them every- 
where ; and they dared do no mischief 
when she was by. She no longer 
played with them after school ; she was 
now their " big sister," to whom they 
softly whispered the favours which 
they wished to get out of mother. 

When Trientje saw her sister coming 
home in the distance, she put out her 
little arms and then would not let her 
go. For mother, Horieneke had to wash 
the dishes, darn the stockings and, when 
the baby cried, sit for hours rocking it 
in the cradle or dandling it on her lap, 
like a little young mother. 

Holding Trientje by the hand and 
carrying the other on her arm, she 
would walk along the paths of the 
garden and then put them both down 
on the bench in the box arbour, while 
she tended the plants and shrubs that 
were beginning to shoot. 
&3 



The Path of Life 

In the evening, when the bell rang 
for benediction, she called all her little 
brothers and they went off to church 
together. From every side came wives 
in hooded cloaks and lads in wooden 
shoes that stamped on the great floor 
till it echoed in the silent nave. 

The choir was a semicircular, homely 
little chapel, with narrow pointed win- 
dows, black at this hour, like deep holes, 
with leads outlining saints in shapeless 
dark patches of colour. The altar 
was a mass of burning candles ; and a 
flickering gleam fell on the brass candle- 
sticks, the little gold leaves and the 
artificial flowers and on the corners of 
the silver monstrance, which stood 
glittering high up in a little white 
satin house. All of this was clouded 
in a blue smoke which rose from the 
holes of the censer continuously swung 
to and fro by the arm of a roguish 
serving-boy. Far at the back, in the 
.84 



Spring 

dark, in the black stripes of shadow 
cast by the pillars or under the cold 
bright patch of a lamp or a stand of 
votive candles was an old wife, huddled 
under her hood, with bent back, 
praying, and here and there a troop 
of boys who by turns dropped their 
wooden shoes or fought with one 
another's rosaries. 

Near the communion-bench knelt 
Horieneke, her eyes wide open, full of 
brightness and gladness and ecstacy, 
face to face with Our Lord. The in- 
cense smelt so good and the whole 
little church was filled with the 
trailing chords of the organ and 
with soft, plaintive Latin chant. Her 
lips muttered automatically and the 
beads glided through her fingers : 
numbered Hail Marys like so many 
roses that were to adorn her heart 
against the coming of the great God. 
Her thoughts wafted her up to 
85 



The Path of Life 

Heaven in that wide temple full of 
glittering lights where, against the high 
walls full of pedestals and niches, the 
saints, all stiff with gold and jewels, 
stood smiling under their haloes and 
the nimble angels flew all around on 
their white-plaster wings. She had 
something to ask of every one of them 
and they received her prayer in turns. 
When the priest stood up in his gleam- 
ing silver cope, climbed the three steps 
and took the Blessed Sacrament in his 
white hands to give the benediction ; 
when the bell tinkled and the censer 
flew on high and the organ opened 
all its throats and the glittering 
monstrance slowly made a cross in the 
air and above the heads of the 
worshippers, she fell forward over her 
praying-stool and lay like that, 
swooning in mute adoration, until all 
was silent again, the candles out and 
she sitting alone there in the dark 
86 



Spring 

with a few black shapes of cloaked 
women who wandered discreetly from 
one station of the Cross to the next. 
Outside she heard her brothers play- 
ing in the church-square. There she 
joined the little girls of her school ; 
and, arm in arm, they walked along 
past the dark houses and the silent 
trees, each whispering her own tale : 
about her new dress, her veil, her 
white shoes, her long taper with 
golden bows ; about flowers and beads 
and prayers. . . . 

After supper, Horieneke had to 
rock the baby to sleep, while mother 
moved about, and then to say the 
evening prayers out loud, after which 
they all of them went to bed. On 
reaching her little bedroom, she visited 
all the prints and images hanging on 
the walls. She then undressed and 
listened whether any one was still awake 
or up. Next she carefully crept down 
87 



The Path of Life 

the three stairs ' in her little shift and 
clambered up the ladder to the loft, 
where all her little brothers lay playing 
in a great box-bed. They knew that 
she would come and had kept a place 
for her in the middle. She sank deep 
in the straw and, when they all lay 
still, she went on with the tale which 
she had broken off yesterday half-way. 
It was all made up of long, long stories 
out of The Golden Legend and wonder- 
ful adventures of far beyond the sea 
in unknown lands. She told it all so 
prettily, so leisurely ; and the children 
listened like eager little birds. High 
up in the dusk of the rafters they saw 
all those things happening before their 

' The bedroom behind the kitchen or living- 
room, in the Flemish cottages, is over the cellar ; 
but this cellar is not entirely underground and 
is lighted by a very low window at the back. 
Consequently, the floor of the bedroom is a little 
higher than that of the living-room and is 
approached by a flight of two or three steps. 
88 



Spring 

eyes in the black depths and saw the 
mad fairy-dance there, until they 
dreamed off for good and all and 
Horieneke was left the only one awake, 
still telling her story. Then she crept 
carefully back to her room and into 
bed, where she lay counting : how 
many more days, how many times 
sleeping and getting up and how many 
more lessons to learn . . . and then the 
great day ! The great day ! Slowly 
she made all the days, with their special 
happenings, appear before her eyes ; 
and she enjoyed beforehand all those 
beautiful things which had kept her so 
long a-longing. When, in her thoughts, 
it came to Saturday evening and at 
last, slowly — like a box with something 
wonderful inside which you daren't open 
— to that Sunday morning, then her 
heart began to flutter, a thrill ran 
through her body and, so that she 
shouldn't weep for gladness, she bit her 
-89 



The Path of Life 

lips, squeezed her hands between her 
knees and rubbed them until the 
ecstasy was passed and she again lay 
smiling in supreme content and shiver- 
ing with delight. 

Time dragged on ; cold weather came 
and rain and it seemed as if it never 
would be summer. And that constant 
repetition of getting up and going to 
bed and learning her lessons and 
counting the hours and the minutes 
became so dreary and seemed to go 
round and round in an endless circle. 

To-day at last was the long-awaited 
holiday when Horieneke might go into 
town with mother to buy clothes. Her 
heart throbbed ; and she walked beside 
mother, with eyes wide-open, looking 
round at every window, up one street 
and down another, crying aloud each 
time for joy when she saw pretty things 
displayed. They bought white slippers 
with little bows, a splendid wreath of 
90 



Spring 

white lilies of the valley, a great veil 
of woven lace, a white-ivory prayer- 
book, a mother-of-pearl rosary with a 
little glass peep-hole in the silver cruci- 
fix, showing all manner of pretty 
things, Horieneke sighed with happi- 
ness. Mother haggled and bargained, 
said within herself that it was " foolish- 
ness to waste all that money," but 
bought and went on buying ; and, every 
time something new went into the big 
basket, it was : 

" Don't tell father what it cost, 
Rieneke ! " 

All those pretty things were locked 
away in the bedroom at home and 
hung up in the oak press, while father 
was still at work. 

On another evening, when mother 
and Horieneke were alone at home, the 
seamstress brought the new clothes : a 
whole load of white muslin in stiff 
white folds full of satin bows and 
91 



The Path of Life 

ribbons and white lace. They had to 
be tried on ; and Horieneke stood there, 
for the first time in her life, all in 
white, like an angel. But the happiness 
lasted only for a spell : there came a 
noise and every one in the room fled 
and the clothes were hastily taken off 
and put away. 

Every day, when the boys were at 
school and father in the fields, neigh- 
bours came to look at the clothes. 
Piece after piece was carefully taken 
out of the press and spread out for 
show on the great bed. The wives felt 
and tested the material, examined the 
tucks and seams and the knots and the 
lining, the bows and ribbons and clapped 
their hands together in admiration. It 
became known all over the village that 
Horieneke would be the finest of all 
in the church. 

The counted days crept slowly by, 
the sun climbed higher every day and 
92 



Spring 

the mornings and evenings lengthened. 
Things out of doors changed and grew 
as you looked : the young green stood 
twinkling on every hand ; the fields lay 
like coloured carpets, sharply outlined ; 
and the trees grew long, pale branches 
with leaves which stood out like stately 
plumes against the sky, so full of youth 
and freshness and free from dust as 
yet and tender In course of time, 
white buds came peeping, gleaming amid 
the delicate young leaves, till all looked 
like a spotted altar-cloth : a promising 
splendour of white blossoms. Here and 
there in the garden an early flower 
came creeping out. Yonder, in the 
dark-blue wood, patches of brown and 
of pale colour stood out clearly, with 
a whole variety of vivid hues. And it 
had all come so unexpectedly, all of a 
sudden, as though, by some magic of 
the night, it was all set forth to adorn 
and grace a great festival. 
93 



The Path of Life 

In the fields, the folk were hard 
at work. The land was turned up and 
torn and broken by the gleaming plough 
and lay steaming in purple clods in 
the sun's life-giving rays. Everything 
swarmed with life and movement. The 
houses were done up and coated with 
fresh whitewash, the shutters painted 
green, till it all shouted from afar in a 
glad mosaic, with the blue of the sky 
and the young leafage of the trees, under 
the brown, moss-grown roofs. 

And the days crept on, each counted 
and marked off : so many white stripes 
on the rafters and black stripes on the 
almanack ; they fell away one by one 
and the Saturday came, the long-expected 
eve of the great Sunday. Quite early, 
before sunrise, the linen hung outside, 
the white smocks and shirts waving, like 
fluttering pennons, from the clothes-lines 
in the white orchard. Horieneke also was 
up betimes and helping mother in her 
94 



Spring 

work. From top to bottom everything 
had to be altered and done over again 
and cleansed. It was only with difficulty 
that she got to school. The last time ! 
To-day, the great examination of con- 
science, the general confession and the 
communion-practice ; and, to-night, every- 
thing to be laid out ready for to-morrow 
morning : all this kept running anyhow 
through her head and among the lines 
of her lesson-book. 

Half-way through the morning they 
went to church. The children there all 
looked so glad, so happy and so clean 
and neat in their second-best clothes and 
so nicely washed. They now made their 
confessions for the last time ; and it all 
went so pleasantly : they had done no 
wrong for such a long while and all 
their sins had already been forgiven two 
or three times over, yesterday and the 
day before. They sat in two long rows 
waiting their turns and thinking over, 
95 



The Path of Life 

right away back to their far-off baby- 
hood, whether nothing had been forgotten 
or omitted : their little hearts must be 
quite stainless now and pure. When 
they were tired of examining their 
consciences, they fell to praying, with 
their eyes fixed upon the saint who 
stood before them on his pedestal, or 
else watched the other youngsters going 
in and out by turns. 

The little church looked its best, neat 
as a new pin : the floor was freshly 
scrubbed and the chairs placed side by 
side in straight rows ; the brasswork 
shone like gold ; and a new communion- 
cloth hung, like a snow-white barrier, 
in front of the sanctuary. The velvet 
banners were stripped of their linen 
covers ; and the blue vases, with bright 
flowers and silver bunches of grapes, 
were put out on the altar, as on feast- 
days. And all of this was for to- 
morrow ! And for them ! 
96 



Spring 

All the time it was deathly still, 
with not a sound but that of the 
youngsters going in and out of the 
creaking confessional. Now and then 
the church-door flapped open and banged 
to, when one of the children had finished 
and went away. Their little souls were 
white as new-fallen snow and bedight 
with indulgences and prayers. On their 
faces lay the fresh innocence of babes 
brought to baptism or of laughing angels' 
heads and in their wide eyes everything 
was reflected festively and at its best ; 
they felt so light and lived on little but 
longing and a holy fear of their own 
worthiness : that great, incredible thing 
of the morrow was suddenly going to 
change them from children into grown- 
up people ! 

They just gave themselves time to have 

their dinners In a hurry ; and then back 

to school, where they were to learn 

how to receive communion. A few 

97 G 



The Path of Life 

benches placed next to one another 
represented the communion-rails ; and 
there they practised the whole after- 
noon : with studied piety, their hands 
folded and their heads bowed, they learnt 
how to genuflect, how to rise, how to 
approach in ranks and return at a sign 
from the old nun, who tapped with a 
key on the arm of her chair each time 
that a new row of youngsters had to 
start, kneel or go back. In a short time 
this went as exactly, as evenly as could be, 
just like soldiers drilling. Finally, they 
had to recite once more their acts of faith, 
adoration and thanksgiving ; and Horie- 
neke and the first of the little boys had to 
write out on large sheets of paper the pre- 
paration and thanks which they had learnt 
by heart, to be read to-morrow in church. 
After that, they were drawn up in line 
and silently and mysteriously led into the 
convent. 

The children held their breath and 
98 



Spring 

walked carefully down long passages, 
between high, white walls, past closed 
doors with inscriptions in Gothic letters 
and a smell of clean linen and apples : 
ever on and on, through more passages, 
till they reached a large hall full of chairs 
where Mother Prioress — a fat and stately 
nun, with her great big head covered 
by her cap and her hands in her sleeves 
— sat upon a throne. They had to file 
past her, one by one, with a low bow, 
and then sit down. 

Mother Prioress settled herself in her 
seat, coughed and, in a rich, throaty 
voice, began by telling the youngsters 
how they were to address Our Lord ; 
told stories of children who had become 
saints ; and she ended by slowly and 
cautiously producing a little glass case 
in which a thorn out of Our Lord's 
crown lay exposed on a red-velvet 
cushion. And then they were sent 
home. 

99 



The Path of Life 

On the way, Horieneke came upon 
her brothers playing in the sand. They 
had scooped it up in their wooden shoes 
and poured it into a heap in the middle 
of the road and then wetted it ; and 
now they were boring all sorts of holes 
in it and tunnels and passages and 
making it into a rats'-castle. She let 
them be, gathered up her little skirts, 
so as not to dirty them, and passed by 
on one side. 

Mother was up to her elbows in the 
golden dough of the cakebread, stirring 
and beating and patting the jumble of 
eggs and flour and milk. Horieneke 
took the crying baby out of the cradle, 
shaking and tossing it in the air, and 
went into the garden just outside the 
door. The golden afternoon sun lay all 
around and everything was radiant with 
translucid green. The little path lay 
neatly raked and the yellow daffodils 
stood, like brass trumpets, closely ranked 



Spring 

on their stalks ; under the shrubs bright 
violets peeped out with raised eyebrows, 
like the grinning faces of little old 
wives. The whole garden was filled 
with a scent of fresh jasmine and a 
cool fragrance of cherry-blossom and 
peach. 

It was all so still and peaceful that 
Horieneke, who had begun to sing, 
stopped in the middle and stood listen- 
ing to the chaffinches and siskins chat- 
tering pell-mell. 

From there she went to her little 
bedroom, laid the child on her bed and 
drew the curtains before the window 
which let in the sun in a thousand 
slender beams of dusty light. The pic- 
tures and images gleamed on the wall 
and the saints seemed to smile with 
happiness in that cool air, fragrant of 
gillyflowers and white jasmine. She took 
out her new prayer-book, flicked the 
silver clasp open and shut and played 



lOI. 



The Path of Life 

with the little shaft of light which the 
gilt edge sent running all round the 
white walls. Then she stood musing 
for a long time, gazing out through the 
little curtains at those white trees in 
blossom, around and above which the 
golden pollen danced, and at all that 
huge green field and the everlasting sun 
and all the blue on the horizon. And, 
feeling tired, she laid her head on the 
bed beside the baby and lingered there, 
dreaming of all the delight and beauty 
of the morrow. 

Mother called her and Horieneke came 
down. Mam'selle Julie was there, who 
had promised to come and curl the 
child's hair. Mam'selle put on a great 
apron and began to undress Horieneke ; 
then a great tub of rain-water was 
carried in and the girl was scrubbed and 
washed with scented soap till the whole 
tub was full of suds. Her head was 
washed as well and her hair plaited into 



Spring 

little braids, which were rolled up one 
by one and wound in curl-papers and 
fastened to her head, under a net. Her 
cheeks and neck shone like transparent 
china with the rosy blood coursing under- 
neath. When she was done, Mam'selle 
Julie went off to the other communicants. 
The boys were lying on their backs, 
under the walnut-tree, talking, when 
Horieneke came past. They looked at 
the funny twists on her head and went 
on talking : Wartje longed most of all 
to put on his new breeches ; Fonske 
was glad that Uncle Petrus was coming 
to-morrow and Aunt Stanske and Cousin 
Isidoor ; Bertje because of the dog-cart' 
and the dogs and the chance of a ride ; 
Wartje because of all that aunt would 
bring with her in her great wicker 
basket ; and Dolfke longed for father to 
come home from work, so that he 
might help to clean the rabbits. 

" The Flemish low-wheeled cart drawn by dogs. 
103 



The Path of Life 

The sun played with the gold in the 
leaves of the walnut-tree ; and the 
radiant tree-top was all aswarm and astir 
and little golden shafts were shooting in 
all directions. The first butterfly of the 
year rocked like a white flower through 
the air. 

" I smell something ! " said Dolfke. 

They all sniifed and : 

" Mates ! They're taking the cake- 
bread out of the oven ! " 

They rushed indoors one on top of 
the other. On the table lay four golden- 
yellow brown-crusted loaves, as big as 
cart-wheels, steaming till the whole 
house smelt of them. 

" First let it cool ! Then you can 
eat it," said mother and gave each of 
them a flat scone. 

" Yes, mother." 

And they trotted round the kitchen 

holding their treasures high above their 

heads and screaming with delight. 
.104 



Spring 

Behind the elder-hedge they heard 
father's voice humming : 

When the sorrel shows, 

'Tis then the month of May, O ! . . . 

They ran to him, took the tools out 
of his hands and : 

" Father, the rabbits ! The rabbits 
now, father ? " 

" Will it be fine weather to-morrow ? " 
asked Horieneke. 

" For sure, child : j ust see how clear 
the sun is setting." 

He pointed to the west ; and the boys 
stood on tip-toe to see the sinking, dull- 
glowing disk hang glittering in ^its gulf 
of orange cloud-reefs, pierced through 
and through with bright rays that melted 
away high in the pale blue and grey, 
while that disk hung there so calmly, as 
though frozen into the sky for ever. 

Father had one or two things to do 



The Path of Life 

and then the boys might come along to 
the rabbits. 

" The two white ones, eh, father ? " 
Father nodded yes ; and Sarelke and 
Dolfke skipped along the boards to the 
hutch and came back each carrying a 
long white rabbit by the ears. 

Dolfke held his close to the ground, 
hidden behind a tree, so that it shouldn't 
see the other's blood and foresee its own 
death. While father was sharpening his 
knife, Fonske took a cord and tied the 
hind-legs of Sarelke's rabbit and hung it, 
head down, on a nail under the eaves. 
Father struck it behind the ears so that 
it was dazed and, rolling its eyes, re- 
mained hanging stock-still. Before it 
had time to scream, the knife was in its 
neck and the throat was cut open. A 
little stream of dark blood trickled to 
the ground and clotted ; and some of it 
hung like an icicle from the beard, which 
dripped incessantly with red drops. 

io6 



Spring 

Fonske carefully put his finger to the rab- 
bit's nose and licked ofF a drop of blood. 

" It's going home," said Sarelke. 

" Is it dead, father ? " sighed Wartje. 

" Stone-dead, my boy." 

He ripped one buttock with his knife 
and pulled off the skin ; then the other, 
so that the blue flesh was laid bare and 
the little purple veins. One more tug and 
the creature hung disfigured beyond all 
knowledge, in its bare buttocks and its 
fat, bulging paunch, with its head all over 
blood and its eyes sticking out. The 
belly and breast were cut open from end 
to end and the guts removed ; the gall- 
bladder was flung into the cess-pool ; two 
bits of stick, to keep the hind-legs and 
the skin of the stomach apart, and the 
thing was done. The other was treated 
likewise ; and the two rabbits hung 
skinned and cleaned, stiffening high up on 
the gable-end. 

Meanwhile mother had got supper ready : 
107 



The Path of Life 

a heap of steaming potatoes soaking in 
melted butter and, after that, bread-and- 
butter and a pan of porridge. Horieneke, 
by way of a treat, got a couple of eggs 
and a slice of the new cakebread ; and 
she sat enjoying this at the small table. 
After supper, the boys had to be washed 
and cleaned. They started undressing 
here and undressing there ; serge breeches 
and jackets flew over the floor ; and one 
after the other they were taken in hand 
by mother, beside a kettle of water, 
where they were rubbed and rinsed with 
foaming soap-suds. Then each was given 
a clean shirt ; and away to bed with them ! 
They jumped and, with their shirt-tails 
waving behind them, skipped about and 
smacked one another until father came 
along and stopped their game. Mother 
had still her floor to scrub ; and Horie- 
neke read out evening prayers while the 
boys knelt beside their bed. 

Now all grew still. Father smoked 
1 08 



spring 

a pipe and took a stroll in the moonlight 
through the orchard, where he had 
always something to look after or to do. 
Indoors the broom went steadily over 
the floor ; whole kettlefuls of water were 
poured out and swept away and rubbed 
dry. Then the stove was lit ; and, while 
mother blacked the shoes, father made the 
coffee. They mumbled a bit together — 
about to-morrow's doings, about the child- 
ren, the work, the hard times and their 
troublesome landlord, the farmer of the 
woodside— when there came a noise from 
the little bedroom and the door creaked 
softly. Horieneke suddenly appeared in 
the middle of the floor in her little night- 
gown ; and, before father and mother had 
got over their surprise, the child was on 
her knees, asking : 

" Forgive me, father and mother, for 
all the wrong that I have done you in 
my life ; and I promise you now to be 

always good and obedient, . . ." 
109 



The Path of Life 

Mother was furious at first ; and then, 
at the sight of the kneeling figure and the 
sound of the tearful little voice, her anger 
fell and she felt like crying. Father hated 
all that sentimental rubbish : 

" Come, you baggage, quick to bed ! 
. . . Forgive you ? What for ? . . . 
Nonsense, nonsense ! " 

The child kept on weeping : 

"Father, please, it's my first com- 
munion to-morrow and we must first 
receive forgiveness: Sister at school said 
so. . . ." 

" The sisters at school are mad ! And 
they'll make you mad too ! To bed with 
you now, d'you hear ? " 

Mother could stand it no longer ; she 
sobbed aloud, took Horieneke under the 
arms and lifted her to her breast. She 
felt a lump in her throat and could 
hardly get out her words : 

" It's all forgiven, my darling. God 

bless you and keep you ! And now go 
no 



Spring 

quick to bed ; you have to be up early 
to-morrow." 

Horieneke put her arm over mother's 
shoulders and whispered softly in her 
ear : 

" I have something else to ask you, 
mother. All the children's parents are 
going to communion to-morrow : shall 
you too, mother ? " 

" Make your heart easy, dear ; it'll 
be all right." 

" Mother, will you call me in good 
time to-morrow morning .? " 

" Yes, yes ; go to bed." 

The house grew quiet as the grave ; 
and soon a manifold snoring and grunting 
sounded all through the bedroom and the 
loft. Outside it was twilight and the 
blossoms shone pale white in the orchard. 
The crickets chirped far and near. . . . 

This was the last evening and morning : 
when it was once more so late and dark, 
everything would be over and done ! All 



III 



The Path of Life 

those days, all that long array of light 
and darkness, of learning and repeating 
lessons — a good time nevertheless — was 
past and gone ; and, now that the great 
thing, always so remote, so inaccessible, 
was close at hand, she was almost sorry 
that the longing and the aching were to 
cease and she almost felt afraid. Should 
she dare to sleep to-night ? No. 'Twas 
so good to lie awake thinking ; and she 
had still so much praying to do : her 
heart was still far from ready and pre- 
pared. 

" O God, I am a poor little child and 
Thou art willing to come to me. . . . 
Dear Virgin Mary, make my soul as pure 
as snow, so that it may become a worthy 
dwelling-place for thy Divine Son." 

The white dress now lay spread out 
upon the best bed in the big bedroom 
and her wreath too, with all the rest. She 
already saw herself clad in all that white 
wealth like a little queen, standing laugh- 

112 



Spring 

ing through her golden curls ! She felt 
the little knots of paper on her head ; 
to-morrow they would be released and 
would open into a cloud of ringlets ; and 
the people, who would all look at her ; 
and aunt. . . . Now just to recite her 
words once more for to-morrow in church. 
. . . And that pretty picture which the 
priest would give her. . . . Was she sure 
that nothing was forgotten ? Just let her 
think again : and her candle-cloth .' Yes, 
that was there too. . . . What could the 
time be ? The clock was ticking like a 
heavy chap's footstep downstairs in the 
kitchen. It was deathly quiet everywhere. 
Now she would lie and wait until the 
clock struck, so that she might know 
how long it would be before it grew light. 
Her eyes were so tired and all sorts of 
things were walking higgledy-piggledy up 
the white wall. . . . 

Then, in the solemn stillness, the 
nightingale began to sing. Three clear 
113 H 



The Path of Life 

notes rang out from the echoing coppice ; 
it was like the voice of the organ in a 
great church. It sounded over the fields, 
to die away in a low, hushed fluting. 
Now, louder and staccato, like a spiral 
stair of metallic sound, the notes rang out, 
high and low alternately, in quickening 
time, a running, rustling and rioting, with 
long-drawn pipings, wonderfully sweet, 
that rose in a storm of bell-like tinklings, 
limpid as water, with a strength, a violence, 
a precision exceeding the music of a 
hundred thousand tipsy carrillons pealing 
through the silent night. And now again 
the notes were softly weaving their fabric 
of sound : bewitchingly quiet, intimately 
sweet, musingly careful, like the music of 
tiny glass bells ; and once more they were 
louder and again they fainted away, borne 
on the still wind like the murmur of 
angels praying. 

The blue velvety canopy was stretched 
on high, studded with twinkling stars ; 
114 



Spring 

and all about the country-side the trees 
stood white. On the winding paths, 
among the pinks, anemones, guelder-roses 
and jasmine-bushes, walked stately white 
figures in trailing garments, with wreaths 
of white roses and yellow flowers gleaming 
on their golden tresses, which they shook 
out over their white shoulders. All the 
world was one pure vista full of blue, curl- 
ing mist and fresh, untasted fragrance. 
A soft melody of dreamy song was wafted 
through the air. And Horieneke saw her- 
self also playing in that great garden, an 
angel among angels. Ropes hung stretched 
from tree to tree ; and they swung upon 
them and rocked with streaming hair and 
fluttering garments, floating high above 
the tree-tops, light as the wind, in a 
shower of white blossoms. They sang all 
together, with those who lay on the beds 
of white lilies and violets : a song of 
unheard sweetness. Not one spoke of 
leaving off or going home ; they only 



The Path of Life 

wished to stay like that, without rain or 
darkness ; there was a continual happy 
frolic, a glad gaiety, in those spacious 
halls where, in spite of the singing and 
the music, all things were yet so deliciously, 
languidly still, still as the moonlight. 

Yonder, by the dark wood, the 
steady swish of a sickle was heard ; 
and this made a fearsome noise in the 
tenuous night. A gigantic man stood 
there ; his head looked over the trees 
and his wide-stretched arms swung the 
sickle and a pick-hook ; and, stroke by 
stroke, the foliage and the flowers fell 
beneath his hands as he passed. The 
singing gradually ceased, the swings fell 
slack and the frolic changed into an 
anxious waiting, as before thunder. 
One and all stood in terror and dismay 
staring at that giant approaching. The 
blue of the sky darkened and the 
angels vanished, like lamps that were 

blown out. The flowers were faded 
Il6 



Spring 

and the whole plain lay mown flat, like 
a stricken wilderness ; and that fellow 
with his sickle, who now drew himself 
up to contemplate his finished work, 
was . . . her father ! 

She started awake and trembled with 
fright. It had been so beautiful that 
she sighed at the thought of it ; and 
outside was the twilight of advancing 
dawn. It was daylight ! Sunday ! She 
jumped out of bed in a flash and 
pulled open the window. The trees 
were there still and the flowers too and 
all the white of last night, but so pale, 
dim and colourless beside the glittering 
brightness of a moment ago . . . and 
never an angel ! She gave a sigh. The 
sky was hung with a thick grey shroud ; 
and in the east a long thin cleft had 
been torn in the grey ; and behind 
that, deep down, was a dull-golden glow, 
gleaming like a great brazen serpent. 
A keen wind shook the cherry-blossom 
117, 



The Path of Life 

and blew a cold, fragrant air into the 
window. All the green distance lay 
dead as yet, half-hidden, asleep In the" 
morning mist ; and neither man nor 
beast was visible, nor even a wreath of 
smoke from a chimney. 

What was the time ? She threw a 
wrap over her shoulders, which were 
getting chilled, and went carefully down 
the bedroom steps. It was still dark 
in the kitchen. She groped, found and 
lit a sulphur match and lifted the flame to 
the clock. Four ! She was so much used 
to seeing the hands in that position in 
the afternoon and they now looked so silly 
that she stood for a long time think- 
ing, foolishly, what she ought to do : 
call mother or creep back into bed and 
sleep. She felt so uncomfortably cold 
and it was still so dark : she went up 
again and stood looking out. 

The birds twittered in the trees and 

the wide cleft in the east yawned wider 
ii8 



Spring 

and wider. Was it going to be a fine 
day after all ? Everything for which she 
had waited so long was there now and 
so strange, so totally different from what 
she had imagined : instead of that leaping 
gladness there was something like fear 
and nervous trembling ; she could have 
wept ; and, merely for the sake of doing 
something, she went down on her knees 
beside the bed and said the prayers 
which she had learnt by heart : 

" Lord God, I give Thee my heart. 
Deign to make Thyself a worthy 
dwelling in it and to abide there all the 
days of my life. . . ." 

The clock struck ; it was half-past 
four and no one yet astir. 

Now she went downstairs again. In 
the room lay her white dress, her 
wreath, her prayer-book : it was all 
ready ; if only somebody would wake ! 
Dared she call ? They lay sleeping side 
by side : father was snoring, with his 
119 



The Path of Life 

mouth open, and mother's fat stomach 
and breasts rose and fell steadily. 

" Mother ! " 

Nobody heard. 

" Mother ! ! " 

And then she pulled at the coverlet 
and cried repeatedly, a little louder each 
time : 

« Mother ! Mother ! ! Mother ! ! ! " 

That was better. Mother turned on 
her side, lifted her head and rubbed 
her eyes with her hands. 

" Mother, it's nearly five ; we shall 
be late ! " 

Mother, drunk with sleep, kept on 
looking at the window and yawn- 
ing : 

" Yes, child, I'll come at once." 

She got up and came out in her 
short blue petticoat stretched round 
her fat hips, with an open slit behind, 
and her loose jacket and wooden shoes 
on. She lit the stove. Horieneke read 



Spring 

her morning prayers, Mother's heavy 
shoes clattered over the floor outside 
and in again ; she put on and took ofF 
the iron pots with the goats' food, drew 
fresh water and made the coffee. 

Mam'selle Julie was coming along 
the rough road. 

" You're in good time ! " cried 
mother from the doorway. 

" Good-morning, Frazie. Up already, 
Horieneke ? It'll be a fine day to-day." 

She took off her hooded cloak, put 
on a clean apron and turned up her 
sleeves. Horieneke was washed all over 
again while mother poured out the 
coffee. Then they sat down. Horie- 
neke kept her lips tight-closed so as 
not to forget that she must remain 
fasting. She slowly pulled on her new 
stockings and stretched out her hand to 
the bench on which the white slippers 
lay. She took off her sleeping-jacket 
and her little skirt and stood waiting 

131 



The Path of Life 

in her shift. When the tongs were 
well warmed, Mam'selle Julie seized the 
little paper twists in the hot iron and 
opened them out. From each fold a 
curled tress came rolling down ; and at 
last, combed out and bound up with 
blue-silk ribbon, it all stood about her 
head in a light mist of pale-gold silk, 
like a wreath of light around her bright, 
fresh face. Her dirty shift was dragged 
off downwards and mother fetched the 
new scapular and laid it over the child's 
bare shoulders. The first-communion 
chemise was of fine white linen and 
trimmed with crochet lace. Julie took 
out the folds and drew it over 
Horieneke's head. Then came white 
petticoats, bodices and skirts. The 
child stood passively, in the middle of 
the floor, with her arms wide apart to 
give free room to Julie, who crept round 
on her knees, sticking in a pin here, 
smoothing a crease there. Mother 



Spring 

fetched the things as they were wanted. 
There was a constant discussing, appro- 
ving, asking if it wouldn't meet or if it 
hung too wide, all in a whisper, so as 
not to wake the boys. 

There came a scrabbling overhead and 
down the stairs ; and, before any one 
suspected it, Bertje stood dancing round 
Horieneke in his shirt. 

" Jesu-Maria ! Oo, you rascal!" 

And the corset which mother held in 
her hand was sent flying up the stairs 
after the boy, who in three jumps was 
gone and up above. The others lay 
laughing in bed when Bertje told them 
that he had seen Horieneke all in white, 
with a bunch of red-gold curls round 
her head, and that mother had thrown 
something at him. 

The corset was laced up and Mam'selle 

Julie told the child to hold her breath 

to let them get her body tighter. Now 

for the white frock : the skirt was 

123 



The Path of Life 

slipped down over her head until it 
stood out in light, stifF pleats ; the 
white bodice encased her body firmly 
and stuck out above the shoulders, its 
puffed sleeves trimmed with little white- 
satin bows and ribbons at every seam 
and fold. Over it hung the veil, which 
shrouded her as in a white cloud. The 
wreath was put on, looked at from a 
distance and put on again until it was 
right at last, with the glittering beads 
in front, shining among the auburn curls, 
and the long streamer of threaded lilies of 
the valley behind, nestling in the tresses 
on her back. The white gloves, her 
prayer-book and candle-cloth, a few pen- 
nies in her bead purse ; and 'twas done. 

The child was constantly twisted and 
turned and examined from every side. She 
did not know herself in all her splendour : 
the Horieneke of yesterday, in her blue 
bird's-eye bib and black frock was a 
poor thing compared with the present 
124 



Spring 

Horienelce, something far removed from 
this white apparition, something quite 
forgotten. She stood stiff as a post in 
the middle of the kitchen, without 
daring to look round or stir ; she felt 
so light and airy in those rustling folds 
and pleats and all that muslin that she 
seemed not to touch the ground. She 
did not know what to do with her 
arms, how to tread with her feet ; and 
her thoughts were straying : the part she 
had to play was all gone out of her head ; 
she would be as fine as this all day long, 
but oh, so uncomfortable ! 

Mother put on stockings and shoes, 
donned her cap, turned her apron, threw 
her cloak over her shoulders ; she called 
her husband ; then : 

"There, boys, we're off; don't forget 
your drop of holy water, all of you ! " 

The door fell back into the latch with 
a bang ; and the three of them were on 
the road. A gust of wind laden with 

I2S 



The Path of Life 

white blossoms out of the orchard 
greeted them. Horieneke held the tips 
of her veil closed against the wind and 
stepped out like a little maid In a pro- 
cession. The two women came behind 
and had no eyes for anything but 
Horieneke : the fall of those white folds, 
the whirling of the veil and the dancing 
of the lilies of the valley in the auburn 
locks. They said nothing. 

The sky still hung grey with its 
yawning cleft widening in the east ; and 
out of it there beamed a sober, un- 
certain light, which fell upon everything 
with a dead gleam : it was like noonday 
in winter. Over the fields and in the 
trees drifted thin wisps of mist, like 
floating blue veils blown on by the 
wind. Below in the meadow the cock 
had started crowing amid his flock of 
peacefully pecking pullets. It was 
very fresh, rather cold indeed, out on 

the high road. 

126 



Spring 

All the little paths led to the church ; 
and in every direction, along the flat 
fields, came people in their very best, 
with little white maids. The wind 
played in their white veils and set them 
waving and flapping like wet flags. 

" The children'U have good weather," 
said Mam'selle Julie ; and, a little later, 
to Horieneke, " What are you going to 
ask of Our Lord now, dear ? " 

" Oh, so much, so much, Mam'selle 
Julie ! I myself hardly know. . . . For 
father and mother and all the family 
and that I may always be a good girl 
and stay at home with them and not 
fall among wicked people and that we 
may all live a long time and go to 
Heaven . . ." 

" And that the harvest may succeed and 
we be able to pay the rent . . . and 
for the farmer . . . and that father may 
keep in health and be fit to work," 
mother ordered. 

127 



The Path of Life 

They reached the village. Mother 
remained waiting among the folk in the 
street ; Horieneke, with the other 
youngsters, went through the school-gates 
where their wax tapers stood burning 
above the bunches of gold flowers and 
leaves shining in the warm light. The 
children looked at one another's clothes, 
whispered in one another's ears what theirs 
had cost and wrangled as to which 
looked the prettiest. The boys vied 
with one another in showing their 
bright pennies and their steel watch- 
chains. 

The procession filed out : first the 
acolytes, in scarlet, with gleaming 
crucifix, brass candle-sticks and censer, 
followed by boys and girls symbolically 
dressed, a lilting dance of flags and 
banners in brilliant colours. Next came 
the priest, in a gorgeous vestment stiffs 
with silk and silver thread and gold 
tracery ; and, in two rows, on either side 
128 



Spring 

of the street, preceded by four little 
angels with gold wings, the first- 
communicants, really such on this 
occasion, in their proper clothes, with 
the great wax tapers in their white- 
gloved hands and a glow in their faces 
and laughter in their eyes. All the 
people crowded after them, through 
the street to the church. The bells 
rang out, the priest sang with the 
sacristan and the whole procession 
triumphantly entered the wide church- 
doors. There was a mighty stamping 
and pushing to get near and to see the 
children sitting in straight rows on the 
front benches of the nave. The girls 
settled in their clothes and the boys 
looked down at their stiff, wide cloth 
breeches and their new shoes, or shoved 
their fingers up their noses or into 
their tight collar-bands. The organ 
droned out a mighty prelude ; the priest, 
all in gold, stood at the altar ; the 
129 I 



The Path of Life 

ceremony began ; the people were silent 
and prayed over their prayer-books. 

The sun appeared ! And green and red 
and yellow shafts of light slanted through 
the stained-glass panes and mingled with 
the blue incense-wreaths. They made 
the corners of the brasswork shine and 
brought smiles to the faces of the saints 
in their niches. A splash of gold fell 
on the curly heads of the children, dark 
and fair ; and tiny rays flashed upon 
the gilt edges of their prayer-books. 
The congregation prayed diligently and 
the full voices sang the joyful Gloria in 
excehis with the organ. 

After the Gospel, the priest hung up his 
chasuble on the stand and mounted the 
pulpit. After a noisy shifting of chairs 
and dragging of feet and coughing, the 
people sat still, with their faces turned to 
the priest. He began by reading out 
the notices in a snuffling tone : the 
intentions of the masses for the ensuing 
130 



Spring 

week ; the names of those about to be 
married or lately deceased. Then he 
waited, cast his eyes over that level 
multitude of raised heads, pulled up his 
white sleeves and turned his face towards 
the children. His drawling voice wished 
them proficiat. 

It was the first time in their lives that 
the youngsters saw that face turned 
expressly towards them from a pulpit 
and also the first time that they listened 
to the sermon with attention. They kept 
their eyes fixed on the priest so as not 
to lose a word. The great day had 
arrived ; a few moments more and they 
would be completing the solemn task, 
they, small children, the task that was 
denied to the pure angels in heaven. 

" And that work must be the founda- 
tion on which all your future life is 
based. Your souls are now so clean, so 
pure, they are shining like clear water 
and are quite spotless. For years we 
131 



The Path of Life 

have taught and instructed and prepared 
you in order to teach your virgin hearts, 
this day, now, in this beautiful chapel, to 
receive that strengthening food, that 
miracle of God's love. Remember it 
always : this is the happiest day of your 
lives ! You are still innocent and about 
to receive the Bread that raises the 
dead, cleanses sinners and purifies the 
fallen. You are still in your first 
youth, without experience of life, and 
are already allowed to approach the Holy 
Table and share the strengthening food 
that supports men and women in the trials 
of life. This also is the propitious moment, 
the mighty hour in which Our Lord can 
refuse you nothing that you ask Him. 
So make use of it, ask Him much, ask 
Him everything : for your parents and 
your masters, who have done so much for 
you, for your pastors, your village and 
especially for yourselves, that He may 
keep you from sin and continue to 
132 



Spring 

dwell in your hearts and allow you to 
grow up into stout champions of the faith 
and of your religion. It is the happiest 
day of your lives. You are here now, 
to-day, with your bright, clear eyes, young 
and beautiful as angels ; we have 
Watched over you, sheltered you 
against all that could have harmed or 
offended your innocence, far from the 
corrupt world of whose existence you 
have not even known. But to-morrow 
you will enter the wide world, with only 
your weak flesh to fight against life's 
dangers : depravity, falsehood, lies and 
sin. Now life will begin for you, now 
for the first time will you be called upon 
to fight, to show courage and to stand 
firm.- How many of those who once 
sat where you are now sitting and who 
were pure and innocent as yourselves 
have now, alas, become lost sinnei^s, 
Judases who have rejected their God, 
devils as roaring lions going about 
133 



The Path of Life 

seeking whom they may devour ! Be 
strong, listen to your good parents : it 
is to them alone that you will have to 
listen henceforth. ..." 

He turned round to the other side 
and, continuing with the same rise and 
fall in his voice, the same gestures of 
his thin right arm, with the flowing 
white sleeve, and the same movement of 
his sharp profile high up above the con- 
gregation, he began once more : 

"To you, fathers and mothers, I also 
wish a cordial profieiat ; for you also 
this is a glad and memorable day. 
How long is it not since you were kneel- 
ing there ! And yet that day always 
lingers in your memory. Since that time 
you have been plunged into the world, 
have had to struggle and have perhaps 
fallen and more than once have known your 
courage fail you. Now your children 
are sitting there ! For years you have 
left them to our care and to-day we 
134 



Spring 

give them back to you, instructed, en- 
riched and supplied with all that they 
can need to pass onward. You receive 
them this day from our hands pure and 
innocent as on the day of their baptism. 
It is for you henceforth to preserve and 
to maintain that virtue and purity in 
them ; it is for you to bring up these 
children so that later they may be 
exemplary Christians. See to it that 
your own conduct edifies them : it is 
according to you and all your actions 
that they will order their lives and take 
example. Admonish them in good 
season and chastise them when necessary : 
' He that spareth the rod hateth his 
son,' says the Holy Ghost. And keep 
your eyes open, for God will ask an 
account of your stewardship and will 
reward or punish you according as you 
have brought them up well or ill. A 
good son, a virtuous daughter are the 
joy and the comfort of their parents." 
135 



The Path of Life 

The congregation were greatly im- 
pressed. The mothers wept : the priest 
was such a good, worthy old man, whom 
they had known all their lives ; and 
they liked hearing him say all those 
beautiful things : that reference to their 
own childhood and to their youngsters, 
whom they now saw sitting there so 
good and saintlike, waiting to receive 
Our Lord, brought the tears to their 
eyes ; and it did them good to feel their 
hearts throb, to feel that lump in their 
throats ; and they let the tears flow : 
after all, it was from gladness. 

The organ played softly and the chan- 
ging tones mingled with the blue wreaths 
that ascended from the sanctuary in a 
fragrant cloud, lingering over the con- 
gregation. The celebrant offered the 
bread and wine to Our Father in Heaven. 
And all this took time ; the children 
were tired by their tense concentration ; 
their prayers had all been said two and 
136 



Spring 

three times over ; and they were now 
vacantly waiting and longing, looking at 
their clothes, at the stained-glass windows 
in the choir or St. Anne in her crimson 
cloak, or counting the stars that were 
painted high up on the stone ceiling. 

The altar-bell tinkled twice and thrice 
in succession ; the Sanctus was sung ; 
and after that the organ was silenced. 
A hush fell over the congregation and 
all heads dropped, as though mown 
down, in deep reverence : not one dared 
look up. The priest genuflected, the 
bell sounded repeatedly and, amid that 
great hush, thrice three notes of the 
great church-bell droned through the 
church and rang out over the distant 
fields. Outside, it was all blue and sun- 
shine and silence ; everything was bowed 
in anxious expectation ; it was as though 
there were nothing erect and alive in the 
world except that little church and that 
bell. In the farthest houses in the 
137 



The Path of Life 

village the mothers were now kneel- 
ing and beating their breasts, with their 
thoughts on Our Lord. The God of 
Heaven and Earth had descended and 
was filling all things with His awful 
presence. Carefully, slowly, almost 
timidly came the Adoro te ; and the 
people little by little raised their heads 
and sighed, as though relieved and still 
quite awed by what had happened or 
was going to happen. 

And now the ceremony began. After 
the Agnus Dei and the three tinkles of 
the bell at the Domine, non sum dignus, 
the four little angels came with hands 
folded and heads bowed, with their 
gold-paper wings carefully furled behind 
them, and walked reverently to the front 
of the church. Horieneke stood up, 
took her great sheet of paper and, in 
her clear voice, read out her piece so 
that all the congregation could hear, 
though she stopped to find her words 
138 



Spring 

at times and faltered here and there be- 
cause her heart was beating so violently 
and she had such a catch in her throat : 
" Then Thou wilt come to us, Al- 
mighty God ! To us poor little sheep 
who, hardly knowing what we did, have 
so often offended Thee. We are not 
worthy to receive Thee, unless Thou 
say but the word that our souls may be 
healed. And, as Thou hast ordained, we 
will, in fear and confidence, approach 
Thee as poor little children approaching 
their kind Father. We have nothing 
wherewith to repay the great love which 
Thou bearest us ; we are needy in all 
things ; and all things must come from 
Thee. We are still very young and 
have already gone astray, but we repent 
and are heartily sorry to have caused 
Thee any grief. And, now that Thou 
art so unspeakably good to us, we wish 
to be wholly loyal to Thee and to be- 
long to Thee with heart and soul ; dis- 
139 



The Path of Life 

pose of us henceforth as Thy servants 
and we shall be filled with joy. Come 
then, O Jesus ; our hearts pant with 
longing, our souls are now prepared ; 
we have begged Mary, our dear Mother, 
our guardian angels and our blessed 
patron saints to make us worthy habita- 
tions for Thy majesty." 

The silence was so great that one 
could hear a leaf fall. The congrega- 
tion wriggled where they knelt to see 
and held their breaths, full of expecta- 
tion. The nun struck her key on the 
back of her chair. Two little angels 
went, step by step, to the communion- 
bench and the first row of boys and 
girls followed. The little ones now 
looked very serious. They held their 
heads bowed and their hands clasped ; 
and their faces shone with . heavenly light 
and silent inner happiness. Horieneke 
was now like a white flower ; her trans- 
parent little waxen face, her delicately 
140 



Spring 

chiselled nose and closed pink lips looked 
so angelic under her sunny curls and 
the white of her veil. The children 
approached the choir silently and slowly : 
'twas as though they were floating. At 
the second tap of the key, they knelt ; 
one more . . . and their hands were 
under the Lace communion-cloth. From 
the organ-loft the Magnificat resounded. 
The priest took the ciborium, gave the 
benediction and with stately tread de- 
scended the altar-steps. In his slender 
fingers he held the Sacred Host, that 
small white disk which stood out sharply 
above the silver vessel against the rich 
violet of his chasuble. The children's 
heads by turn dropped backwards and 
fell upon their breasts, in ecstacy. The 
bells rang out ; the choristers shouted 
their hymn of praise ; the priest mur- 
mured : 

" Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christ . . ." 
The key tapped ; and the angels kept 
141 



The Path of Life 

leading new rows to the Holy Table 
and bringing the others away again. 
And the great work went on in solemn 
silence amid all that jubilant music. The 
congregation were lifted up, their hearts 
throbbed and their tears welled with 
happiness and contentment. 

The last row had come back ; and 
they were all now kneeling in adoration 
when the head boy read out : 

" What shall we return Thee, O Lord, 
for what Thou hast done for us ! But 
now we were mute, prostrate in adoration, 
amazed and awed by Thy mighty presence 
in our hearts, bowed down in the dust 
of our humility ; now at last we dare raise 
our heads and thank Thee. We beseech 
Thee that Thou wilt continue to dwell 
in our hearts, to reign there and to pour 
forth Thy mercies there abundantly. 
We are frail creatures ; and, were it not 
that Thou, in Thy compassion, dost 
uphold us, we should continually and at 
142 



Spring 

every moment fall and succumb in the 
rude gusts of life. We put our trust 
in Thee and we know that Thou wilt 
succour us and that we shall enter the 
life everlasting. Amen." 

It was over ; and the congregation 
looked round impatiently to see how 
they could get out of church quickest. 
Their tears were dried and their thoughts 
were once more fixed on clothes, home, 
coffee and cakebread. After the last 
sign of the cross, the men crowded out- 
side ; the mothers sought their youngsters, 
kept them out of the crush for fear of 
accidents and marched triumphantly 
through the two rows of sightseers that 
stood on either side of the church-door. 
Now was the moment for showing-off, 
for congratulation and admiration on 
every side, till the children did not 
know which way to turn or what to 
say ; and they were very hungry. All 
now went with their friends to the tavern 
143 



The Path of Life 

for a drop of Hollands ; and from there 
mother went home with two or three 
wives of the neighbourhood. 

Horieneke walked behind. She was 
all by herself and wrapped in contempla- 
tion : that great miracle was now over, all 
of a sudden, and she could hardly believe 
it. Instead of enjoying all the happi- 
ness for which she had waited so long, 
her heart was full of distress and she 
felt inclined to cry. She had been so 
uneasy in church, so shy and frightened : 
there was the reading of that paper be- 
fore all those people ; and directly after, 
amid all the confusion. Our Lord had 
come. Hastily and very distractedly 
she had said her prayers, had spoken, 
asked and prayed and then waited for 
the miracle, waiting for Our Lord, Who 
now, living in her, would speak. And 
nothing had happened, nothing : she had 
done her very best to listen amidst the 
bustle outside and around her . . . and 
144 



Spring 

yet nothing, nothing ! Meanwhile she 
had raised her head to breathe . . . and 
the people were leaving and she had 
to go with them : it was finished ! It 
had all been so matter-of-fact, just like 
the communion-practice of yesterday, 
when she had merely swallowed a morsel 
of bread. Her heart beat in perplexity 
and she feared that she had made an 
unworthy communion. 

The wind blew under her veil, which 
flew up in the air behind her. She was 
so pure, so unspotted in all that white ; 
and, cudgel her brains as she would, she 
could not remember any fault or sin 
which she had omitted to confess. 
Though Our Lord had not spoken to 
her, He had been there all the same 
and she had not heard Him because of 
all that was happening around her. She 
ought to have been alone there, in a 
silent church. Even here, outside, by 
the trees, would have been better. 

145 K 



The Path of Life 

The wives were asked in to coffee 
and they stood and waited for Horieneke 
at the garden-gate. Indoors everything 
was anyhow : Fonske was going about 
in his shirt, Bertje had one leg in his 
breeches and Dolfke sat on the floor, 
playing with Trientje. Father had made 
coffee and stood with the bottles and 
glasses ready, looking dumbfounded at 
his child, now that he saw her for the 
first time in her white clothes. The 
boys crowded round shyly ; they no 
longer knew their sister in this great 
lady ; they kept hold of one another 
shyly, with their fingers in their mouths ; 
they were unable to speak a word. 
Mother threw off her cloak and began 
cutting currant-bread and butter. Horie- 
neke was made to take off her veil 
and gloves and a towel was fastened 
under her chin. The wives and 
youngsters sat down. First a drop to 

each ; all drank to the health of the 
146 



Spring 

little first-communicant ; they touched 
glasses. Father poured out and Horie- 
neke had to drink too : she put the 
stuff to her lips, pulled a wry face and 
pushed the glass away. The boys 
dipped and soaked the bread in their 
coifee ; and the wives started talking about 
their young days and about clothes and 
the old ways and the fine weather and 
the fruit-crop. Mother did nothing but 
cut fresh slices of bread-and-butter, 
which were snatched away and gobbled 
up on every side. 

" Eat away ! " said father. 

The hostess of " The Four Winds " 
had been unable to take her eyes off 
Horieneke all through mass. 

" Damned pretty, like a little angel ! " 
said Stiene Sagaer. 

" And a curly head of hair like a 
ball of gold ! It made one's mouth water ! 
And that wreath ! " squealed the farmer's 
wife from the Rent Farm. 
147 



The Path of Life 

" Mam'selle Julie had a hand in it." 

" And such pretty manners ! Well, 
dear, Our Lord will be mighty pleased 
with you." 

" And how nicely she read that 
piece ! " said Stiene. " My blood crept 
when I heard it. Look here, Wanne 
Vandoorn was sitting beside me ; and, you 
can take my word, the good soul couldn't 
control herself and we both cried till 
we sobbed." 

" I felt it too," said mother. " Such 
things are cruel hearing. And the 
priest ..." 

" Ah, he knows how to talk, that 
holy man ! He's a pure soul." 

"You'll regret it all your days, Ivo, 
that you weren't there to see it." 

Father nodded and took another slice 
of bread-and-butter. 

" It'll take me all the week to tell 
about it at home," said the farmer's wife. 

The boys sat making fun among them- 
148 



Spring 

selves of Stiene Sagaer's crooked nose 
and the squeaky voice of the farmer's 
wife. When the wives had done eating, 
they stood up and went. 

When they had gone some little way, 
they turned round again and cried against 
the wind : 

" It's going to be fine to-day, Ivo ! " 

" And warm ! " piped the farmer's 
wife. " Beautiful weather ! " 

They went down the sand-path, each 
wending her own way home. 

The boys were now dressed and father, 
stripped to the waist, went out to wash his 
face under the trees at the pump. His 
freshly-ironed white shirt was brought out 
and his shiny boots and his blue smock- 
frock and black-silk cap. After much 
fuss and turning and seeking, he got 
ready and the boys too. Mother was 
busy with the baby in the cradle ; 
Horieneke was showing her new holy 
pictures to Trientje ; and Bertje and the 
149 



The Path of Life 

other boys had gone out to play in the 

road. The bells rang again, this time 

for high mass. Many small things had 

still to be rummaged out, clothes to be 

pinned and buttoned ; and the boys, with 

their Sunday penny in their pocket, 

marched up the wide road to high mass. 

The wind had dropped and the sun 

blazed in the clear blue of the sky, 

which hung full of unravelled white 

cloud-threads, showing gold at the edges. 

A gay light lay over all the young green ; 

the huge fields were full of waving corn, 

which swayed and bowed and straightened 

again, shining in streaks as under clear, 

transparent water. The trees stood 

turned to the sun, as though painted, so 

bright that from a distance one saw all 

the leaves, finely drawn, gleaming against 

the shadows that lay below. Here they 

stood in close hedges on either side of 

the road, trunk after trunk, making a 

dark wall with a dense roof of leafage, 
ISO 



Spring 

which presently opened out in a rift at 
the turn of the road, where four tree- 
trunks stood out against the sky ; and 
then the trees turned away to the left 
and were drawn up in two new rows, 
which stretched out beside the road 
right across the plain. Here and there 
a few other trees stood lonely in the 
fields, gathered in small clumps, with the 
light playing between them ; and far away 
at the edge of the bright expanse, in a 
wealth of mingled green, amid the tufted 
foliage with its changing hues and 
shadows, the little pointed church showed 
above the uneven, red-tiled roofs. It 
was all like a restful dream, made up 
of Sunday peace. Above and around, all 
the air was sounding with the gay 
tripping music of the three bells as they 
rang together : a laughing song in the 
glad sunshine, summoning from afar the 
people who came from every side, 
clad in their best. The boys, in their 

IS! 



The Path of Life 

new red-brown, fustian breeches, stand- 
ing stiff with the tailor's crease in 
them, and their thick, wide jackets and 
shiny hats, held father's hand or skipped 
round Horieneke, whom they could not 
admire enough. In the village square 
they hid themselves and went to the 
booth to see how they could best spend 
their pennies. 

The people stayed in the street, looking 
about, and did not go into the church 
until the little bell tolled out its tinkling 
summons and the last little maid had been 
looked at and had disappeared. Then 
the men knocked out their pipes against 
the tips of their shoes and sauntered in 
through the wide church-door. 

The incense still hung about the aisles 
and the sun sifted its golden dust through 
the stained-glass windows right across 
the church. The congregation stood 
crowded and crammed together behind 
their chairs, looking at the gilt of the 
152 



Spring 

flowers and at the great mountain of 
votive candles that were burning before 
the altar. The organ had all its pipes 
wide open ; and music streamed forth 
in great gusts that resounded in the 
street outside. The priest sang and 
rough men's voices chanted the responses 
with the full power of their throats. And 
the high mass proceeded slowly with 
its pomp of movement and song. The 
congregation prayed from their books 
or, overcome by the heat, sat yawning 
or gazing at the incense-wreaths or 
started nodding on their chairs. The 
saints stood stock-still, smiling from 
their pedestals and proud in their high 
day finery. When the singing ceased, 
one heard through the dreamy murmur 
of the organ the spluttering of the 
burning candles and the clatter on the 
brass dish of the sacristan making the 
collection. The priest once more 
mounted the pulpit and, with the same 
153 



The Path of Life 

gestures and action, delivered the same 
admonitions as earlier in the morning. 
Again the people sat listening and 
weeping ; others slept. More organ- 
music and singing and praying and the 
mass came to an end and the priest 
turned to the congregation and gave 
the blessing. They streamed out of 
church In a thick crowd and stood in 
the road again to see the youngsters 
past. Then all of them made their 
several ways to the taverns. The first- 
communicants had to call on aunts and 
cousins and friends ; and the poorer 
children went to show their clothes 
and asked for pennies. 

Horieneke and father and the brothers 
went straight home to await the visitors. 
Before they reached the door, they smelt 
the butter burning In the pan, the roast 
and the vegetables. The stove roared 
softly ; and on the flat pipe stood earthen 
and Iron pots and pans simmering and 
IS4 



Spring 

fretting and sending up clouds of steam 
to the rafters. Amidst it all, mother 
hurried to and fro in her heavy wooden 
shoes. Her body still waggled in her 
wide jacket and blue petticoat. Her 
face shone with grease and perspiration. 
She puffed and sighed in the intolerable 
heat. The blue chequered cloth lay 
spread on the table ; and all around were 
the plates with the freshly tinned spoons 
and forks and little beer-glasses'. Out- 
side, the boys sat in the top of the 
walnut-tree, waiting and peering for any 
one coming. Father had taken off his 
blue smock and turned up his shirt-sleeves 
and now went to see to his birds. That 
was his great hobby and his work on 
Sunday every week. All the walls were 
hung with cages : in that big one were 
two canaries, pairing ; in the next, a 

' The West-Flemings brew a beer so extremely 
strong that it is served in quite small glasses, not 
more than half the size of an ordinary tumbler. 
155 



The Path of Life 

hen-canary sitting on her eggs ; and in 
a little wire castle lived a linnet and a 
cock-canary and three speckled young- 
sters. The finches were in a long row 
of darkened cages and moul ting-boxes. 
When he put out his hands, the whole 
pack started singing and whistling ; 
they sprang and fluttered against the 
bars and pecked at his fingers. He took 
the cages down one by one, put them 
on the table and whistled and talked to 
his birds, cleaned the trays and filled the 
troughs with fresh water and seed. The 
canary-bird got a lump of white sugar 
and the linnet half an egg, because of 
her young ones. Then he stood and 
watched them washing their beaks and 
wings and splashing in the water, pecking 
at their troughs now full of seed and 
at their sugar and cheerfully hopping 
on and off their perches. Then, when 
they were all hung up again in their 
places on the wall, they all started 
IS6 



Spring 

whistling together till the kitchen rang 
with it. The baby screamed in its 
cradle. Trientje cried and mother 
stamped across the floor in her heavy 
wooden shoes. 

" Hi, mates, I see something ! " Fon- 
ske called from the walnut-tree. 

The boys stretched their necks and so 
did father : it was jogging along in the 
distance, coming nearer and nearer. 

" Uncle Petrus and Aunt Stanse in 
the dog-cart ! " 

They slithered out of the tree like 
cats and ran down the road as fast as 
they could. The others now plainly 
heard the wheels rattling and saw the 
great dogs tugging and leaping along 
as if possessed. High up in the car sat 
uncle, with his tall hat on his round 
head, bolt upright in his glossy black- 
broadcloth coat ; and beside him broad- 
bodied Aunt Stanse, with coloured 
ribbons fluttering round her cap and 
157 



The Path of Life 

a glitter of beads upon her breast. In 
between them sat Cousin Isidoor, half- 
hidden, waving his handkerchief. They 
came nearer still, jolting up and down 
through the streaks of shade and sun- 
light between the trees. Uncle Petrus 
flourished his hand, pushed his hat back 
and urged the dogs on ; aunt sat with 
her face aflame and the drops of sweat 
on her chubby cheeks, laughing, with 
her hands on her hips, because of the 
shaking of her fat stomach. The dogs 
barked and leapt right and left at the 
boys. Petrus jumped nimbly out of the 
cart, ran along the shafts and led the 
team with a stylish turn out of the 
road, through the gate, into the little 
garden, where it pulled up in front of 
the door. The dogs stood still, panting 
and lolling out their tongues. Mother 
was there too and cried, " Welcome," 
and took Doorke under the armpits and 
lifted him out of the cart. Aunt began 
158 



Spring 

by handing out baskets, parcels and 
bundles. Then, sticking out her fat 
legs, in their white stockings, she climbed 
out of the cart and looked round at the 
youngsters, who already stood hankering 
to know what was in the basket. 

" Well, bless me, Frazie, I needn't 
ask you how it goes with the chickens ! 
There's a whole band of them and all 
sound and well : just look at them ! 
Oh, you fatty ! " And she pinched 
Bertje's red cheeks. "And you too, 
Frazie." 

" Look at the state I'm in ! " said 
mother, sticking her hands under the 
apron stretched tight across her fat 
stomach and looking down at her bare 
legs. " Such a heap to do, no time to 
dress yet." 

" You're all right as you are, Frazie ; 

you've no need to hide your legs nor 

t'other either : you've a handsome 

allowance of both," said Uncle Petrus, 

159 



The Path of Life 

chaffingly. " I'd like a drop of water 
for the dogs, though." 

Father sent the bucket toppling down 
the well and turned the handle till it 
rose filled. The dogs stuck their heads 
into the bucket and lapped and gulped 
greedily. Cousin stood staring bashfully 
amid all those peasant-lads and all that 
jollity, while Bertje, Fonske and the 
others too did not come near, but stood 
looking at the little gentleman with his 
fine clothes and his thin, peaky face ; 
they trotted and turned, whispered to 
one another, went outside and came 
back again, laughed and said nothing. 

" But the first-communicant ! Where's 
Horieneke ? " asked Stanse, suddenly. 

From the little green arbour, in 
between the trees, a golden curly-head 
came peeping, followed by a little white 
body and little Trientje too, holding 
a great bunch of yellow daffodils in her 
hand. Stanse stuck out her arms in the air : 
1 60 



Spring 

" Oh, you little butterfly ! Come along 
here, you're as lovely as an angel ! " 

And she lifted Horieneke from among 
the flowers, right up to her beaded 
breast, and pressed her thick lips to the 
child's forehead with a resounding smack. 

"Godmother, godmother," whimpered 
Trientje. 

" Yes, you too, my duck ! " 

And the child forthwith received two 
fat kisses on its little cheeks. 

The dogs were now unharnessed and 
father and Petrus had gone for a stroll 
in the orchard. The boys stood crowding 
against the table, looking at aunt undoing 
her parcels. In one were sweet biscuits, 
in another brandy-balls, peppermints, 
pear-drops and toffy. All this was 
carefully divided into little stacks and 
each child was given his share, with the 
strict injunction not to eat any before 
noon. Fonske hid his in the drawer, 
next to the canary-seed, Dolfke his in 

l6l L 



The Path of Life 

the cupboard and Bertje shoved his 
portion into his pockets. It was not 
long before three or four of them were 
fighting like thieves and robbers, while 
Stanse and Frazie went to look at the 
baby, which lay sleeping quietly in the 
cradle. 

First one more drop of cherry-gin apiece 
and then to dinner. The soup stood 
ready ladled out, steaming in the plates. 
Horieneke sat demurely in the middle, 
next to Doorke, with uncle and aunt on 
either side and, lower down, father and 
all the children : mother had to keep 
moving to and fro, waiting on them, 
snatching a mouthful now and again 
between whiles. When every one was 
served and Trientje had stammered out 
her Our Father aloud, father once more 
stood up, as the master of the house, 
and said : 

" You are all of you welcome and I 

wish you a good appetite." 
162 



Spring 

The spoons began to clatter and the 
tongues to wag : uncle praised the deli- 
cious leek-soup, so did aunt ; and then 
came endless questions from every side 
about the news of the district and all 
that had happened during the last ten 
or twelve years, ever since Frazie had 
married and left her home. 

The children sat staring with wide- 
open eyes, now at their plates, now at 
aunt with her fat cheeks and her diamond 
cross that hung glittering at the end of 
a gold chain on her enormous breast ; 
they counted the rings that were spitted 
on her fingers right up to the knuckles ; 
they gazed at her earrings. ... As the 
soup went down, the faces began to 
shine and mother pulled at her jacket and 
complained of the dreadful heat. Father 
pushed up the window and opened the 
back-door. The wind and the scented 
air, with pollen from the cherry-trees, 
now blew across the table and played 
163 



The Path of Life 

refreshingly in their necks and ears. 
Mother kept on running about and 
serving : it was hot carrots now and boiled 
beef Father took the flowered milk-jug 
and filled the little tumblers with beer. 
Slices of meat and fat were cut off with 
the big carving-knife and distributed ; 
each received his plateful of glistening 
carrots ; and the forks went bravely to 
work. After that, the great iron pot 
was set on the table, with the rabbits, 
which, roasted brown, lay outstretched 
in the appetizing, simmering gravy that 
smelt so good ; and beside it a dish of 
steaming potatoes. The little tumblers 
were emptied and filled again ; in be- 
tween the loud talking you could hear 
the crunching of the teeth and the 
cracking of the bones ; the children sat 
smeared to their eyes and picked the 
food in their plates with their hands. 
Uncle's eyes began to twinkle and he 
started making jokes, so much so that 
164 



spring 

aunt had every moment to stop eating 
for laughing ; then her broad head would 
fall backwards and her cheeks, which 
bloomed like ripe peaches, creased up 
and displayed two rows of gleaming 
ivory teeth. It all turned to a noisy gig- 
gling ; and the general merriment could 
be heard far away in the other houses. 

Uncle Petrus enjoyed teasing his 
sister and made her cry out each time 
he declared that, for all her waiting at 
table and running about, she had eaten 
more than he and Brother Ivo put 
together and that it was no wonder she 
had grown such a body and bred such 
fine youngsters. The mighty din woke 
the baby and started it crying loudly in 
its cradle. Fonske took it out and put it 
in mother's lap. It was as fresh and pink 
as a rose-bud ; it kicked its little legs 
about and shoved its fists into its eyes. 

" Yes, darling, you're hungry too, I 
expect." 

i6s 



The Path of Life 

And she unbuttoned her jacket and 
from behind her shift produced her 
great right breast. The baby stuck its 
hands into that wealth of whiteness, 
seized the proffered nipple in its mouth 
and started greedily sucking. After the 
first eager gulps it gradually quieted, 
closed its eyes and lay softly drinking, 
rocked on mother's heaving lap. 
Isidoorke kept looking at this as at 
something very strange that alarmed 
him. Horieneke, noticing it, held up 
a rabbit-leg to him and told him of those 
pretty white rabbits which she had seen 
slaughtered yesterday. The other young- 
sters had now eaten their fill and began 
to feel terribly bored at table. Bertje 
gave Fonske a kick on the shin and 
they went outside together, whispering 
like boys with some roguery in view. 
Wartje, Dolfke and the others followed 
them outside. When it was all well 
planned, they beckoned behind the door 

1 66 



Spring 

to Doorke ; and, when the little man 
came out at last : 

"Is it true, Doorke ? Do you dare 
go among the dogs ? " 

And they led him on gently by his 
velvet jacket, behind the house to the 
bake-house, where the dogs lay blinking 
in the shade, with their heads stretched 
on their paws. 

Doorke nodded ; and, to show how 
well-behaved they were, he went close 
up to them and stroked their backs. 

" And is it also true," asked Bertje, 
with mischievous innocence, " that you 
know how to harness them ? " 

Doorke looked surprised and again 
nodded yes. 

" Let's see if you dare ! " 

" Hoo, hoo, Baron ! " said Doorke. 

And he took the dog by the collar, 
put the girths on him and fastened 
the traces while Fonske held up the 
cart. 

167 



The Path of Life 

"And that other one too?" 

Doorke did the same with the other 
dog and with the third ; and they were 
now all three harnessed. Bertje took the 
cart by the shafts and drew it very 
softly, without a sound, under the 
windows and through the little gate 
into the road. The other boys bit their 
fingers, held their breaths and followed 
on tip-toe. Then they all crept into the 
cart ; and, when they were comfortably 
seated, Bertje took the reins and : 

" Gee up ! " 

Wartje struck the dogs with the 
handle of the whip and they leapt 
forward lustily and the cart rolled along 
through the clouds of dust rising from 
the sandy road. 

Horieneke had come up too and 
watched this silent sport ; and she now 
stood alone with Doorke, looking along 
the trees, where the cart was disappearing 
towards the edge of the wood. When 
1 68 



Spring 

there was nothing more to see, they 
both went indoors. 

Uncle and aunt and father were now 
talking quietly and earnestly, over three 
cups of coffee. Mother still sat with 
the baby on her lap, where it had 
fallen asleep while sucking. Aunt was 
constantly wiping the glistening perspira- 
tion from her forehead ; and she un- 
buttoned her silk dress because she had 
eaten too much and her heart was 
beginning to swell. 

" Shouldn't we be better out of 
doors ? " she asked. 

Mother tucked in her breast, buttoned 
her jacket and laid the child carefully 
in the cradle, near Trientje, who sat 
sleeping in her little baby-chair. They 
left everything as it was : table and 
plates and pots and glasses. Father and 
uncle filled their pipes and went outside 
under the elder-tree, in the shade. The 
wives tucked their clothes between their 
169 



The Path of Life 

legs and lay down in the grass. Aunt 
had carefully rolled up her silk skirt 
and was in her white petticoat. 

They now went on talking : an 
incessant tattle about getting children 
and bringing them up, about house- 
keeping and about land and sand and 
parish news, until, overcome by the 
heat and the weight of their bodies, 
they let their heads fall and closed 
their eyes and seemed to sleep. Uncle 
and father stood looking at them a 
little longer and then, in their white 
shirt-sleeves, with their thumbs in their 
tight trouser-bands, went up the narrow 
little path, in the blazing sun, to look at 
the wheat and the flax, which were 
already high. 

Horieneke and Doorke were now left 
looking at each other. Horieneke began 
to tire of this ; and she took the boy 
by the hand and led him into the 
house and up to her room. There 
170 



Spring 

she showed him her holy pictures on 
the wall and her little statues ; they sat 
down side by side on the bed ; and 
Horieneke told him the whole of her life 
and the doings of the last kvf days, all 
that she had longed for and to-day's 
happiness. The boy listened to her 
gladly ; he looked at her with his big, 
brown eyes and sat still closer to her 
on the bed. He had now to see her 
pretty clothes ; and they went together 
to the best bedroom where the veil lay 
and the wreath and her prayer-book 
and earrings. She must next really 
show him what she had looked like that 
morning in church ; and he helped her 
put on the veil, placed the wreath on her 
curls and then took a few steps back- 
wards to see. He thought her very 
pretty ; and they smiled happily. Then 
everything was taken off again ; and 
they went hand in hand, like a brother 
and sister who had not seen each other 
171 



The Path of Life 

for some time, to walk in the little 
flower-garden. Here they looked at 
every leaf and named every flower that 
was about to open. When everything 
had been thoroughly inspected, they sat 
and chatted in the box arbour, very 
seriously, like grown-up people. Then 
they also became tired and Horieneke 
put her arm over Doorke's shoulder, 
allowed her golden curls to play in his 
eyes and in this way they walked out, 
down the road, towards the wood. 
Here they were all alone with the birds 
twittering in the trees and the crickets 
chirping in the grass beside the ditch. 

Everywhere, as far as they could see, 
was corn and green fields and sunshine 
and stillness. They strolled down the 
long, cheerful road. Doorke held his 
arm round Horieneke's tight-laced little 
waist and listened to all the new things 
which his cousin described so prettily ; 
and she too felt a great delight in 
172 



Spring 

having this boy, with his brown eyes 
and his lean shoulder-blades, beside her, 
listening to her and looking at her and 
understanding her ever so much better 
than her rough little brothers did. She 
would have liked to walk on all her life 
like this, in that golden sunshine, telling 
him how she had read that beautiful 
prayer in church this morning . . . and 
about the priest's sermon . . . and those 
pretty angels with their gold wings, 
who had walked up and down so calmly 
and placidly ; about her dread during 
the communion-mass and her fear and 
sorrow because Our Lord had not spoken 
in her little heart. And so, talking and 
listening, they came to the wood. It 
looked so pleasant under those pollard 
alders in the shade and farther on in 
the dark, among the spruces, where the 
light filtered through in meagre rays, 
after that long walk in the blinding 
sun. 

173 



The Path of Life 

" Let's go in ! " said Doorke and was 
on the point of going down the little 
path that ran beside the ditch, in among 
the trees. 

" We mustn't ! " said Horieneke ; and 
she clutched him by the arm. 

Her face grew very serious and she 
wrinkled her forehead : 

" Look there ! " 

And she pointed through a gap 
between the trees down to the valley 
where, above the tall trunks, they could 
see the whole expanse of a big home- 
stead, with the long thatched roofs of 
stable and barn and the tiles and slates 
of the house and turrets. She put her 
mouth to his ear and whispered : 

" That's where the rent-farmer lives 
. . . and he's a bad, bad man. He does 
wicked things to the little girls who go 
into the wood ; and mother says that 
then they fall ill and die and then they 
go to Hell ! " 

174 



Spring 

Doorke did not understand very well, 
but he saw from Horieneke's wide-open 
eyes that it was serious. They sat down 
together on the edge of the ditch, with 
their legs in the grass, played with the 
daisies and listened to the thrushes 
gurgling deep down in the wood. They 
sat there for a long time. The sun 
sank to the top of the oak ; the sky was 
flecked with white clouds which shot 
through the heavens in long diverging 
shafts, like a huge peacock's tail upon 
an orange field. 

The children mused : 

" I should like to fall down dead, here 
and now," said Horieneke. 

Doorke looked up in surprise : 

"Why, Horieneke.?" 

" Then I should be in Heaven at 
once." 

They again sat thinking a little : 

" Playing with the angels ! . . . Have 
you ever seen angels, Doorke ? " 
175 



The Path of Life 

" Yes, in the procession, Horieneke." 

" Ah, but I mean live ones ! I saw 
some last night, live ones ; and they 
were in white, Doorke, with long trains 
and golden hair and diamond crowns, and 
they were singing in a beautiful gar- 
den ! . . . " 

With raised eyebrows and earnest 
gestures of her little forefinger, she told 
him all her dream of the angels and the 
swings and the singing and the music 
, . . and of father with his sickle. 

Doorke hung upon her words. 

The thrush started anew and they 
sat listening. 

" What will you do when you grow 
up, Doorke ? " 

And she put her arm round the boy's 
neck again and looked fondly into his 
eyes : 

" Will you get married, Doorke ? " 

Doorke shook his head. 

" Not even to me .? " 
176 



spring 

And she looked at him with such a 
roguish smile that the boy felt ashamed. 
Then, to comfort him, she said : 

" Nor I either, Doorke. Do you 
know what I'm going to do ? " 

" No, Horieneke." 

" Listen, Doorke, I'll tell you all 
about it, but promise on your soul not 
to tell anybody : Bertje, Fonske and all 
the rest mustn't know." 

Doorke nodded, 

" Father wanted me to go into service 
down there, with all those wicked 
people. Then I cried for days and days 
and prayed to Our Lord ; and mother 
told father that I was dying ; and then 
she said that I might . . . Try and 
guess, Doorke ! " 

Doorke made no attempt to guess. 
Then she drew him closer to her and 
whispered : 

" Mother said I might stay at home 
and help her . . . and afterwards, when 
177 M 



The Path of Life 

I am grown up ... I shall become a 
nun, Doorke, in a convent ; but first 
mother must get another baby, a new 
Horieneke. . . . And you?" 

The boy didn't know. 

"And you, Doorke, must learn to be 
a priest ; then you and I will both go to 
Heaven." 

Behind them, on the road, came a 
noise and a rush and an outcry so great 
that the children started up in fright. 
Look ! It was Bertje and all the little 
brothers in the dog-cart, which was 
coming back home through the sand. 
When they saw cousin and Horieneke, 
they raised a mighty shout of joy and 
stopped. Bertje stood erect and issued 
his commands : all the boys must get 
out ; he would remain sitting on the 
front seat, with Horieneke and Doorke 
side by side behind him, between two 
leafy branches, like a bride and bride- 
groom ! Fonske cut two branches from 
17» 



Spring 

an alder-tree and fastened them to 
either side of the cart. Then they 
set out, amid the shouting and cheering 
of the boys running in front and behind : 

« Ready ? " 

" Ye-e-es ! " 

The dogs gave an angry jerk forward 
and the cart went terribly fast and 
Doorke clutched Horieneke with one 
hand and with the other warded off the 
hanging willow-twigs that lashed their 
faces. 

The sun had gone down and a red 
light was glowing in the west, high up 
in the tender blue. The air had turned 
cooler and a cold, clammy damp was 
falling over the fields, which now lay 
steaming deadly still in the rising 
mist that already shrouded the trees in 
blue and darkened the distances. 

At the turn of the road, the children 
stepped out of the cart and put it away 
carefully behind the bake-house, tied up 
179 



The Path of Life 

the panting dogs and sauntered into the 
house. 

" Father, we've been out with cousin," 
said Bertje. 

They had to take their cofFee and 
their cakebread-and-butter in a hurry : it 
was time to put the dogs in, said 
uncle. 

Doorke said they were put in. 

Frazie helped her sister on with her 
things : 

" You'll find the looking-glass hanging 
in the window, Stanse. I must go and 
put on another skirt too and come a 
bit of the way with you." 

The boys were to stay at home ; 
they got the rest of the sweets and were 
ordered to bed at once. Horieneke was 
told to take off her best clothes ; it was 
evening and the goats had still to be 
fed. She went to her little room reluc- 
tantly and could have cried because it 
was all over now and because it was 
I So 



Spring 

so melancholy in the dark. She felt 
ashamed when she came down again and 
glanced askance at Doorke, who would 
think her so plain in her week-day 
clothes. The boy looked at her and 
said nothing ; then he jumped into the 
cart and drove ofF slowly. Mother with 
Stanse and father with uncle came 
walking behind. 

It was still light ; the evening was 
falling slowly, slowly, as though the day- 
light would never end. In the west the 
sky was hung with white and gold 
tapestry against an orange background. 
On the other side, the moon, very wan 
still, floated in the pale-blue all around it. 
Beside the bluey trees long purple stripes 
of shadow now lay, with fallen clusters 
of branches, on the plain. You could 
hardly tell if day or night were at hand. 

Uncle and aunt were extremely pleased 
with their visit ; uncle looked contentedly 
into the distance and boasted that he 
i8i 



The Path of Life 

had never seen such an evening nor such 
fine weather so early in the year, while 
Frazie at each step flung her arms into 
the air and stopped to .say things to 
Stanse, whose good-natured laugh rang 
out over the plain and along the road. 
In front of them, Doorke, like a little 
black shadow, danced up and down in 
his cart to the jolting of the wheels as 
he jogged quietly along. The crickets 
chirped in the ditch ; and from high up 
in the trees came the dying twitter of 
birds about to go to sleep. 

Father wanted to drink a parting glass 
of beer in the Swan ; Doorke could 
drive along slowly. 

"Just five minutes then," said Petrus. 

There were many people in the inn 
and much loud merriment. The new 
arrivals were soon sitting among the 
others, staying on and listening to all 
the jolly songs ; and, when this had gone 
on for some time, they forgot the hour 
182 



Spring 

and the parting. Aunt Stanse held 
her stomach with laughing ; she was 
not behindhand when the glasses had to 
be emptied or when her turn came to 
sing a song. Amid the turmoil, the 
rent-farmer came up to Frazie, took her 
Impudently by the arm, laughingly 
wished her proficiat with her pretty 
daughter and, after slyly looking about 
him for confirmation, said, half in 
earnest : 

" We're planting potatoes to-morrow 
at the Rent Farm, we shall want lots of 
hands ; missie may as well come too." 

And with that he went back to his 
game of cards. 

This time, the leave-taking was genuine. 
Petrus got up ; and it was good-bye till 
next year, when Doorke would make his 
first communion. 

The cart was waiting outside the 
door ; they stepped in, uncle took the 
reins. 

il!3 



The Path of Life 

"A safe ride home! " 

" Thanks for the pleasant visit ! And 
to our next merry meeting ! " 

" God speed ! . . . Good-night ! " 

" Gee up ! " 

The dogs sprang forward, the cart 
rumbled along and soon the whole thing 
had become a shapeless black patch among 
the black trees. In the still night they 
could just hear the wheels rattling over 
the cobbles ; and then Ivo and Frazie 
went home again. 

A breeze came playing through the 
garden, sighing now and again with a 
sound as soft as silk ; the moon shone 
upon the dark trees and its light played 
like golden snow-flakes dancing and 
fluttering down upon the gleaming crests 
of the green bushes and the milk-white 
plain. The air was heavy and stifling, 
full of warm damp ; and strong-scented 
gusts of fresh, rain-laden perfumes blew 
across the road. 

1S4 



Spring 

They stepped hurriedly on the legs of 
their long shadows and did not speak. 
There came a new rustling in the trees 
and a few big, cool drops of rain pat- 
tered on the sand, one here, one there 
and gradually quicker. 

Ivo and Frazie hastened their pace ; 
but, when the great drops began to fall 
on them thick as hail and around them 
in the sand, till the rain streaked through 
the air, and rattled tremendously over 
their heads, mother held her body with 
both hands to prevent its shaking, Ivo 
tied his red handkerchief over his silk 
cap and they started running. 

" It was main hot for the time of year." 

" And the flowers smelt too strong 
and the thrush sang so loud." 

It went on raining : a wholesome, 
cleansing downpour, a slow descent in 
slanting lines that glittered in the moon- 
light, bringing health to the earth. The 
air was fragrant with the wet grass and 
i8S 



The Path of Life 

the white flowers : it was like a rich 
garden. At home, everything was put 
away, the table cleared and wiped ; the 
lamp was alight and all the doors open. 
The boys were in bed. Horieneke had 
read evening prayers to them and then 
hurried to her little room, to be alone ; 
and there she had lain thinking of all 
that had happened during that long day : 
her jaws ached from the constant smiling ; 
and she felt dead-tired and sad. 

Father took off his wet blouse and 
mother stirred up the fire : they would 
have one more cup of coffee, with a 
drop of something, and then go to bed. 
Ivo lit his pipe and stretched out his 
legs to dry beside the stove. 

They drank their coffee and listened 
to the steady breathing of the boys and 
the dripping of the gutters on the 
cobbles outside. Father made a remark 
or two about uncle and aunt and about 
their village, but got only half-answers 
i86 



Spring 

from his wife. Then, all of a sudden, 
he asked : 

" What did the farmer come and say 
to you ? " 

Frazie sighed : 

" They're planting potatoes to-morrow 
and we were to go and work ; and 
Horieneke was to come too." 

"Ay." 

" But she'll stay here ! " 

" What do you mean, stay here ? " 

" Yes, she's got her work to do at 
home." 

" All right ; but If she has to go ? " 

"Don't care." 

And mother stood with her arms 
akimbo, looking at her husband, waiting 
for his answer. 

" And if he turns us out and leaves 
us without work ! " 

" And suppose our child comes home 
with a present . . . from that beast of a 
farmer ! " 

187 



The Path of Life 

Ivo knocked out his pipe : 

" Pooh, that could happen to her 
anywhere ; and, after all, she won't be 
tied to her mother's apron-strings all her 
life long ! . . . When you live in a 
man's house and eat his bread, you've 
got to work for it and do his will : 
the master is the master. Come, let's 
go to bed ; we've a lot to do to- 
morrow." 

Suppressed sobs came from the little 
bedroom. Mother looked in. Horie- 
neke lay with her hands before her 
eyes, crying convulsively. 

" Well, what's the matter ? " 

The child pressed her head to the wall 
and wept harder than ever. 

"Come along, wife, damn it ! It's 
time that all this foolery was over, or 
she'll lose her senses altogether." 

Mother grew impatient, bit her teeth : 

" Oh, you blessed cry-baby ! " 

And angrily she thumped the child 
1 88 



Spring 

on the hip with her clenched fist and 
left her lying there. 

" A nice thing, getting children : 
one'd rather bring up puppies any day ! " 

She turned out the light and it was 
now dark and still ; outside, the thin 
rain dripped and the white blossoms 
blew from the trees and the whole 
air smelt wonderfully good. In the 
distance, the nightingale hidden in the 
wood jugged and gurgled without 
stopping ; and it was like the pealing of 
a church-organ all night long. 

■tF tF tF 

The weather had broken up and the 
day dawned with a melancholy drizzle 
and a cold wind. The sky remained 
grey, discharging misty raindrops which 
soaked into everything and hung trem- 
bling like strung pearls on the leaves of 
the beech-hedge and on the grass and 
on the cornstalks in the fields. It 
was suddenly winter again. On the 
1.89 



The Path of Life 

hilly field the people stood black, 
wrapped up, with their caps drawn 
over their ears and their red handker- 
chiefs round their necks. The hoes 
went up in the air one after the other 
and struck the moist earth, which opened 
into straight furrows from one end to the 
other of the field. Here wives walked 
barefoot, bent, with baskets on their arm 
from which they kept taking potatoes and 
laying them, at a foot's distance, in the 
open trench. In a corner of the field stood 
the farmer, his big body leaning on a stick ; 
and his dark eyes watched his labourers. 

There, in the midst of them, was 
Horieneke, bent also like the others, in 
her coarse workaday clothes, with a 
basket of seed-potatoes on her arm ; 
and her red-gold curls now hung, like 
long corkscrews, wet against her face ; 
and every now and then she would 
draw herself up, tossing her head back 
to keep them out of her eyes. 
190 



IN THE SQUALL 



VI 

IN THE SQUALL 

A T noon, under the blazing sun, all 
-^*- three started for the wood, after 
blackberries. 

Trientje was in her cotton pinafore, 
with a straw hat on her head and a 
wicker basket on her arm. Lowietje 
stood in his worn breeches and his torn 
shirt ; in his pocket he had a new 
climbing-cord. Each dragged Poentje by 
one hand, Poentje who still went about 
in his little shirt and, with his wide- 
straddling little bare legs, trotted on 
between brother and sister. 

They went along narrow, winding 
foot-paths, between the cornfields, high 
193 N 



The Path of Life 

as a man, through the flax-meadows 
and the yellow blinking mustard-flower. 
The sun bit into Lowietje's bare head 
and sent the sweat trickling down his 
cheeks. 

They went always on, with their eyes 
fixed upon that thick crowd of blue trees 
full of blithe green and of dark depths 
behind the farthermost trunks. 

Poentje became tired and let himself 
be dragged along by his hands. When 
he began to cry, they sat down in the 
ditch beside the corn to rest. Trientje 
opened her basket and they ate up all 
their bread-and-butter. Near them, in 
the grass, ants crept in and out of a 
little hole. Lowietje poked with a 
stick and the whole nest came crawling 
out. The children sat looking to see 
all those beasties swarm about and run 
away with their eggs. 

All three stood up and went past the 

old mill, then through the meadow and 
194 



In the Squall 

so, at last, they came to the wood and 
into the cool shade. On the banks of 
the deep, hollowed path, it all stood 
thick as hail and black with the bramble- 
berries. Lowietje picked, never stopped 
picking, and put them one by one in 
his mouth ; and his nose and cheeks 
were smeared with red, like blood. 
Trientje steadily picked her whole 
basket full and Poentje sat playing on 
the way-side grass with a bunch of corn- 
flowers. 

In the wood, everything was still : the 
trees stood firmly in the blaze of the 
sun and the young leaves hung gleam- 
ing, without stirring, A bird sat very 
deep down whistling and its song rang 
out as in a great church. Turtle-doves 
cooed far away. Round the children's 
ears hummed big fat bees, buzzing 
from flower to flower. When the bank 
was stripped, they went deeper into the 

wood, Lowietje going ahead to show 
195 



The Path of Life 

the way. They crept through the trees 
where it twilighted and where the sun 
played so prettily with little golden 
arrows in the leafage ; from there they 
came into the high pine-wood. Look, 
look ! There were other boys . . . and 
they knew where birds lived ! 

" Listen, Trientje," said Lowietje. 
" You stay here with Poentje : I'll come 
back at once and bring your pinafore 
full of birds' eggs . . . and young ones." 

He fetched out his climbing-cord and, 
in a flash, all the boys were gone, 
behind the trees. Trientje heard them 
shout and yell and, a little later, she saw 
her little brother sitting high up on the 
slippery trunk of a beech. She put 
her hands to her mouth and screamed : 

" Lo — wie ! . . . " 

It echoed three or four times over the 
low shoots and against the tall trees, but 
Lowietje did not hear. 

A man now came striding down the 
196 



In the Squall 

path ; he carried a gun on his shoulder. 
The boys had only just seen him and, on 
every side, they came scrambling out of 
the tree-tops, slid down the trunks and 
darted into the underwood. Breathless, 
bewildered and scared to death, Lowietje 
came to his sister and, with his two hands, 
held the rents of his trousers together : 

" There were eight eggs there, Trientje, 
but the keeper came and, in the sliding, 
my trousers ..." 

And he let a strip fall. They were 
torn from end to end, from top to 
bottom, in each leg. 

" Mother will be angry," said Trientje, 
very earnestly. 

She took some pins from her frock and 
fastened the tears, so that the skin did 
not show. 

Suddenly fell a rumbling thunder-clap 

that droned through all the wood and 

died away in a long chain of rough 

sounds. The children looked at one 

197 



The Path of Life 

another and then at the trees and the 
sky. All stood black now, the sun was 
gone and a warm wind came working 
through the boughs, by gusts. It grew 
dark as night and at times most terribly 
silent. 

And now — they all crossed themselves 
— a ball of fire flew through the sky and 
it cracked and broke and it tore all that 
was in the wood. The wind came up, 
the branches rocked and writhed and the 
leaves fluttered and tugged and heavy 
drops beat into the sand. 

" Quick, quick ! " said Trientje. " It's 
going to lighten ! " 

Lowietje said nothing and Poentje cried. 
Each took the child by one hand and 
they ran as fast as they could to get 
from under the trees. 

" Ooh ! Ooh ! " 

They dashed their hands before their 
eyes and stood still : a golden snake 
twisted round a tree and all the wood 
198 



In the Squall 

was bright with fire and there came a 
droning and a rumbling and a banging 
as of stones together and a hundred 
thousand branches burst asunder. Shiver- 
ing, not daring to look up, they crossed 
themselves again and all three crept under 
the branches, deep down in a ditch. 
Trientje tied her pinafore over the little 
one's face and they sat there huddled 
together, shuddering and peeping through 
their fingers and saying loud Our Fathers. 

" You must not look, Lowietje : the 
lightning would strike you blind." 

The trees wrung their heavy boughs 
and everything squeaked and rustled 
terribly. The water rained and poured 
from the leafy vault on Trientje's straw 
hat, on Lowietje's bare head and right 
through his little torn shirt. And clap 
and clap of thunder fell ; the sky opened 
and belched fire like a hot oven. The 
children sat nestling into each other's 
arms — Poentje down under the other two 
199 



The Path of Life 

— and only when it had kept still for long 
did they all, trembling and terrified, dare 
to put out their heads. 

" I wish we were home now ! " sighed 
Lowietje. 

Once more the sky was all on fire and 
rumbling and breaking and crackling till 
the earth quaked and shook. 

" O God, O God, help us get out of 
the wood and home to mother ! " whined 
Trientje. 

When they opened their eyes again, 
they saw below them, in the bottom, a huge 
beech with a bough struck off and the 
white splinters bare, with leaves awkwardly 
twisted right round : it stood there like 
a fellow with one arm off. 

The rain now fell steadily in straight 
stripes ; the noise grew fainter and the 
sky broke open. 

Soaked through with the wet, the 
children came creeping out of the ditch 
and now, holding their breaths, stood 



In the Squall 

looking at that tree which was so awe- 
somely cleft and at that crippled bough 
which hung swinging over space. The 
thunder still rumbled, but it was very 
far away, like heavy waggons rattling over 
hard stones. Lowietje caught his little 
brother up on his back and they made 
straight for the opening of the drove, 
where they saw a clear sky. They must 
get out of the wood, away from those 
trees where such fearful things happened 
and where it cracked so and where it was 
so dark. 

Outside, the heaven hung full of gold- 
edged clouds and the sun drove its bright 
darts through the sky. The rain fell in 
lovely gleaming drops and all looked so new, 
so fresh and so strangely glad as after a fit 
of weeping, when the glistening tears hang 
in laughing eyes. 'Twas all so peaceful 
here and 'twas far behind them that the 
trees were twisted and bent. Here and 
there flew birds ; and the cuckoo sat calling 



The Path of Life 

in a cornfield. Lowietje's shirt was glued 
to his skin ; his trousers hung heavily 
from his limbs and his hair fell in dripping 
tresses, sticking along his cheeks. The 
white spots on Trientje's pinafore were 
run through with the black ; and wet 
cornstalks whipped her little thin skirt. 
Poentje splashed with his naked little feet 
in the puddles and asked for mother. 

" We're almost home, child," said 
Trientje, to soothe him. 

They went through the wet grass and 
fragrant cornfields along the slippery foot- 
paths to a big road. 

Look, there, behind the turning, came 
mother : she had a sack-cloth over her 
head and two umbrellas under her arm ; 
she looked angry and ugly. 

" We shall get a beating," sighed 
Lowietje. 



A PIPE OR NO PIPE 



VII 

A PIPE OR NO PIPE 

T T E dropped his wheel-barrow, strode 
*- -»■ from between the shafts and went 
and looked into the great window of the 
tobacco-shop. His eyes were all full, as 
far as they could carry : an abundance and 
a splendour to dream about. He came 
a step nearer and rested his two elbows 
on the stone window-sill, to see more 
comfortably. 

Two stacks of motley cigar-boxes stood 
on either side and ran together at the top 
into a rounded arch, from which hung long, 
long pipes, cinnamon-wood pipes, as thick 
as your arm, with green strings to them 
and huge, big bowls, artfully carved into 
205 



The Path of Life 

the heads of the King, of hideous niggers, 
or of pretty girls with beads for eyes. 

On thick, transparent glass slips lay 
whole files of meerschaum pipes, fur- 
nished with clear curved-amber mouth- 
pieces : fishes' heads, lobster-claws holding 
an eggshell, horses' heads, cows' hoofs ; 
rich cigar-holders of meerschaum, all over 
silver stars and gold bands. Heaps and 
heaps and lots and lots of every kind, as 
far as he could see ; and all this was mul- 
tiplied in two enormous mirrors, in which, 
yonder, far bacj?; among all this smoking- 
gear, he saw his own face staring at him 
out of his great, astonished eyes. 

He sighed. It was all so beautiful, so 
rich ! And now if mother had only got 
work ! 

He went over it once more. Down 
below, in little plush-lined trays, lay the 
small pipes, the boys' stuff. They lay 
scattered higgledy-piggledy, whole hand- 
fuls of them, crooked and straight, brown 
206 



A Pipe or no Pipe 

and black. His eyes thieved round 
voluptuously in those trays and they read 
with eager curiosity the neatly-written 
figures which informed the world how 
much each pipe cost. 

Here, they were crooked, comical little 
things of black cocus-wood ; there, they 
were motley, speckled round bowls, like 
birds' eggs, with white stems ; but they 
cost too much. And yet they were 
so charitably beautiful ! Now his eyes 
remained hankering after a splendid 
varnished bowl. It was almost tucked 
out of sight, but it glittered so tempt- 
ingly and had a lovely brown ring at 
the edge, shading downwards to a pale 
gold-yellow : there was a little cup 
for the oil to sweat into and a fat 
cinnamon stem, with a horn mouthpiece. 
He examined it on every side and would 
have liked to turn it over with his eyes. 
Inside the bowl stood, in black figures : 

" I fr. 50." 

207 



The Path of Life 

" Mother ! . . . " 

That was the one he wanted, that was 
his. She had promised him a pipe if 
she got work to-day. If only she had 
brought work with her ! 

After one last look and one more . . . 
he went on. 

He caught up his barrow and pushed 
it, over the wide road, straight to the 
station. 

There he had to wait. 

He loitered round the dreary, deserted 
yard. The noon sun bit the naked stones ; 
and everything, hiding and shrinking 
from that glowing sun-fire, seemed dead. 
The drivers sat slumbering on the boxes 
of their cabs ; the horses stood on three 
legs, their heads down, crookedwise 
between the shafts, and now and then 
they gave a short stamp, to keep off 
the flies, which were terribly active. A 
group of loafers lay sleeping on their 
stomachs in the shade. A slow-moving 
208 



A Pipe or no Pipe 

vehicle drove past and disappeared round 
the corner. A dog came stepping up 
lazily and went and lay under the sun- 
flowers near the signal-box, blinking his 
eyes. 

There was nothing more that moved. 

At last the train came gliding in very 
gently, without noise, and it sent a gulp 
or two of white smoke into the quivering 
blue sky. 

Now the boy stood stretching his neck 
through the railings, on the look-out for 
his mother, whom he already saw in his 
thoughts, coming bent, with a heavily- 
laden bag of weaving-stufF ; and the pipe 
was in his pocket ... or else nothing, 
nothing at all ! 

'Twas a fat gentleman that got out 
first ; then a tall, thin one ; then a woman ; 
then another woman ; always others ; and 
now, now it was mother. She stuck out 
her thin leg, groping from the high 

foot-board to find the ground, and . . . 
209 o 



The Path of Life 

she had an empty blue-and-white canvas 
bag on her shoulder. His lower lip 
dropped sadly and he turned slowly to 
his barrow : 

" No work yet. God better it ! " 

The mother threw her bag on the 
wheel-barrow and they went on, without 
speaking. 

Straight opposite the tobacco-shop, the 
boy gave a sidelong glance at the great 
window, with all those rich things dis- 
played behind it, and he whistled a little 
tune. 

They had still far, very far to go, 
before they two were at home, in their 
village. And the sun was burning. 



2IO 



ON SUNDAYS 



VIII 

ON SUNDAYS 

T N his Sunday best ! A red-and-yellow 

-*• flowered scarf was tied round his 

sun-burnt neck and the two ends blew 

over his shoulders ; a small brown-felt 

hat with a curly brim was drawn down 

upon his head and, from under it, came 

here and there a wisp of flaxen hair. 

He wore a small, open jacket, with a short 

waistcoat, from under which a clean blue 

shirt bulged out ; and his long, much 

too long trousers fell in wide folds over 

his big cossack shoes.' Under his arm 

he carried a bundle knotted into a red 

handkerchief, while with the other hand 

he twirled a switch. 

" Hob-nailed shoes fastened with straps. 
213 



The Path of Life 

He was a growing youngster, a well-set- 
up cowherd, with a brown, freckled face, 
small, pale-grey eyes, under milk-white 
eyebrows, and bony knees and elbows : 
a sturdy fellow in the making. 

'Twas heavenly, grand Sunday weather: 
it shone with light and life and it was all 
green, pale, splendid green, against a clear 
blue sky in the middle of the afternoon. 

He stepped on bravely, along the wide 
drove of elms, twisting his switch, and 
looked into the free sky with his young, 
grey-blue eyes. He thought ... of 
what ? Of nothing ! Truly, of nothing : 
what does a cowherd think of? Wait 
a bit, though ; he was thinking : 'twas 
Sunday ! It was Sunday once more, the 
glad Sunday ! And there were so few 
Sundays in those long, long weeks. And 
he was going home for a few hours : 
yes, home ; and from there to Stafke's 
and to Stafke's pigeons. 

He was hard-worked at the farm : 

214 



On Sundays 

twenty-nine cow-beasts, which were always 
hungry and always wanted fattening ; 
furthermore, a whole herd of calves and 
hogs : 'twas a drudging without end or 
bottom, from early morning to late at 
night, until his limbs hung lame. 

The farmer was good but strict and 
could not abide sluggards ; he looked 
for work, hard work ; and this the lad 
was glad to give, but only while looking 
forward to the everlasting Sunday, in which 
lay all his happiness and cheer. 

He quickened his steps; and the elms 
pushed by, one by one, and at last, ahead, 
very far down that dark hedge of stems 
and leafage, came a tiny opening where 
the trees seemed to touch one another. 

Look ! There, beside the little village 
church, stood Farmer Willems' homestead, 
with its little slate turret and the great 
poplars and, beside it, close together and 
quite hidden in the green, two little 
cottages. 'Twas there that he was brought 

2IS 



The Path of Life 

up and had grown up ; there, in one of 
those cottages. In the other lived Stafke's 
father and mother. The children had 
led the half-wild life of the country there : 
two little boys together. They had 
clambered up those mighty trees, weltered 
in the sand of the drove and coursed like 
foals in the meadow. The farm was a 
free domain to them ; they were at home 
in it ; they went daily to the little door 
of the wash-house to fetch their slice of 
rye-bread-and-butter and, in the morning, 
an apple or a pear. They had lain and 
rolled in the hay-loft, like fish in the 
water ; but all that had passed so quickly, 
so very quickly. The parish-priest came ; 
and, for six months, six long months, they 
had had to go to school and church. 
Then, on a certain Monday morning, 
father said : 

" Lad, you're coming along to the 
farm to-day, to bind corn." 

Play was over, the free play of the 
216 



On Sundays 

country ! They were pressed into labour, 
were saddled with the labourer's heavy 
burden. Since then, it had been an 
endless roving after work, from one 
farm to another, with his bundle under 
his arm. 

Stafke had remained serving at Willems', 
with father, and he, on Sunday afternoons, 
had not so far to go, under the burning 
sun, in order to get home. 

The way was long for an unthinking 
lad ; and they seemed endless, those never- 
changing rows of tree-trunks, those un- 
counted yellow, blinking cornfields . . . 
and never a creature on the road. It was 
something very much out of the way 
when a pigeon flew through the azure 
sky ; the lad stood still and, turning 
round, followed the great ring which it 
made until it dropped far away, yonder 
among the houses of the village. Then 
he went on, pondering, as he went, that 
there was nothing, absolutely nothing 
217 



The Path of Life 

lovelier than a milk-white pigeon in a 
pale-blue sky ; and he whispered : 

" Perhaps it's Stafke's pigeon." 

On reaching home, he laid down his 
bundle ; his baby sister came running up 
to him, with her little arms wide open, 
and held him by his legs ; and he lifted 
her twice, three times above his head. 
He handed mother his earnings ; and 
then, out of the door, to Stafke's ! 

" Roz'lie, is he in ? " 

" Oh, yes, he's up in the loft, with the 
pigeons." 

He climbed up the ladder, in three stepe 
and as carefully as he could, to the dove- 
cote. Behind a swarm of half-stretched 
and loose-hanging clouts and canvas 
things, a lad sat on an overturned tub, 
his fair-haired curly head in his hands, 
his elbows on his knees, peering through 
a sort of lattice-work. Jaak sat down at 
the other side, on a bundle of maize, in 
just the same attitude, and looked too. . . . 
218 



On Sundays 

There were white, snow-white, mottled, 
blue, slate-blue, russet, speckled, grey, 
black-flecked, striped and spotted pigeons, 
doves, pouters — some cocks, the rest 
hens — a motley crowd all mixed up to- 
gether. There were some that sat mur- 
muring one to the other, softly — oh, so 
softly — and nodding their heads for sheer 
kindliness. Others cooed loudly, angrily 
or indiiFerently and tripped round one 
another. Others sat huddled, meditating, 
lonely and forlorn, blinking their bright 
little glittering eyes. 

Through the holes, from the resting- 
board, new ones came walking in with 
shy feet and sought a little place for 
themselves ; others passed out through 
the narrow opening and, flapping their 
wings, rose into the sky. 'Twas a 
humming and muttering without end, a 
murmuring and whispering loud and soft 
and a restless stir and movement : a little 
world full of neatly-dressed damsels, who 
219 



The Path of Life 

were all so lightly, so prettily decked out 
and who knew how to manage their trains 
and their fine clothes so demurely and so 
comically. They carefully combed and 
cleaned their black velvet ruffs, smoothed 
their sharp-striped feathers one by one, 
fondled and rubbed their downy breasts 
till they shone like new-blown roses. . . . 

And Jaak and Stafke sat watching this, 
sat watching this, like two steel statues, 
sweating in that warm loft. They did 
not stir nor speak a single word. 

And that lasted and went on. , . 

It grew dusk. From every side the 
pigeons came flying in, whole troops of 
them, and sought their well-known roosts. 
They stood two and two, closely crowded 
together on the perches or huddled 
in the holes. They drew their heads 
into their feathered throats and slept. 
The rumour diminished to just a soft 
mumbling ; and then nothing more. The 
pigeon that sat over there, squatting low 



On Sundays 

on her eggs, faded from sight in her dark 
corner ; and the whole upper row vanished 
in the dusk of the rafters. 

The boys still sat on. 

The dovecote became a pale-grey twilight 
thing, with drab and black patches here 
and there. The soft humming passed into 
a faint buzz that died away quite ; and all 
was silence. 

They both together stood up straight, 
gave a long-drawn sigh and went below. 

" It's getting dark," said Jaak, wiping 
the sweat from his face. " The cows will 
be waiting." 

" Yes," said Staf ke. " It gets evening 
all at once. Well, Jaak, till Sunday." 

And Jaak went away, through the now 
moonlit drove, with a new bundle under 
his arm and thinking of the farm, of his 
twenty-nine cow-beasts and of Sunday and 
of Stafke's pigeons. 



11 y a des malheurs qui arrwent 
(fun pas si lent et si sir qu'ils 
paraissent faire partie de la vie 
journaliere. 

MONTALEMBERT. 



AN ACCIDENT 



IX 

AN ACCIDENT 

T T E had been half awake several times 
••■ -^ already, but each time he had slipped 
back into an uneasy doze, a restless, 
wearisome sojourn in a strange, drowsy 
world, in which he struggled with 
stupid, silly dream-spectres, all jumbled 
together in a huddled mass of inco- 
herent, impossible thoughts and actions ; 
a blank world in which all his workaday 
doings were forgotten ; an after-life 
of tiring sleep following on the carouse 
of yesterday. He lay half-sufFocated in 
the stifling heat of that tiled garret, lay 
tossing on a straw mattress. And 
suddenly, with a jolt that jerked him 

225 P 



The Path of Life 

upright, he was flung out of all that 
mystery into the everyday world, with 
that sickly faintness about his heart, his 
hollow brain and weary eyes, flung back 
into the confused remembrance of all 
that had happened the day before and 
of the queer things in his dreams. All 
this now went turning and spinning with 
the glittering dust which came and played 
at his feet in the blistering sunbeam 
that bored through the glass sky-light. 

His head — or no, it was his brain- 
pan, the box in which all his thoughts 
were packed — rose from his shoulders 
and danced itself into sections, melted 
away, divided into a hundred thousand 
little parts that whirled all through the 
garret. He was living outside his 
body ; and he now felt the outline 
of his own face and found the 
shape strange, as if he had hold of 
a piece of furniture. His eyes were 
gone ; and out of other, innumerable 
226 



An Accident 

little eyes he saw his own little person 
lying there panting and heaving on his 
mattress : a wretched, small thing, with 
a wan face, a heap of scraggy 'limbs 
under a thin, grey skin, covered here 
and there with a strip of dirty shirt. 
He lay there so absurdly : a stunted 
little being, most awfully unhappy. A 
foul moisture clogged his lips ; and from 
his whole body came the reek of sour 
beer and the odour of stale sweat : he felt 
sick at the thought of his own carcass. 

Little by little he again became 
the ordinary creature of every day, with 
still a retching sensation at the pit of 
his stomach, with still a heavy head 
and shaky limbs ; he felt faint and 
hungry. And all the wretchedness of his 
unhappy life came up before him : that 
incessant struggle for existence ; he 
must get up, go back to his work, 
start drudging for his living, resume 
the same dreary round of working and 
227 



The Path of Life 

sleeping like a beast of burden. And 
now why couldn't he take life as it 
came, like his mates, who just went 
through it anyhow, without any calcu- 
lating, callously and cheerfully, some- 
thing like a machine which, when the 
sun comes out and it is daylight, begins 
to move arms and legs, to twist and 
turn the whole day long and, when it 
is evening again and dark, falls down 
and remains lying dead, for a few 
hours, with all the other things? 

He drew himself up, thrust his thin 
legs into his trousers, his arms into a 
dirty jacket and let his weary limbs 
carry him below. His mother had 
buttoned up the linen satchel with his 
two slices of bread-and-butter and had 
ladled out his porridge. He went out 
followed by a " God guard you, lad ! " 
and the little woman looked after her 
boy till he had vanished out of the 
alley. She was so fond of him, he 

22^ 



An Accident 

knew it ; yes, he knew all about that 
tender love, which he so often rejected 
in a moment of churlish impatience ; 
but still he was sorry afterwards, even 
though he never showed it. That prim, 
old-fashioned little woman, with her 
cramped ways, was his mother ; his 
father had been a drunkard and had 
been killed at his work : that was his 
parentage ; it was their fault that he 
led this poverty-stricken existence. 

He walked on, without looking up 
at all the swarming life around him, 
went step by step over the slippery 
cobbles, straight to his work. His 
work : why must he work, always that 
everlasting toiling, while others lived 
and enjoyed their lives without doing 
anything? He too had once thought — 
but it was only a dream — of becoming 
something ; he had felt something 
stirring just there, inside him, and that 
seed would have sprouted and blossomed 
229 



The Path of Life 

if they had only tended it ; but they had 
ruthlessly repelled him, had refused to take 
him up with them on the heights ; and he 
had remained in the mud, alone, all alone. 

There it rose before him : a mighty 
edifice in building, with behind it a 
radiant summer sun that blazed forth high 
above the framework of the roof in the 
morning sky and made that giant struc- 
ture stand black in its own shadow. 

That was his work. All that mass 
of bricks he had seen grow into the 
mighty whole ; and there it stood now, 
a huge block, with heavy, massive out- 
lines, contained — held upright, it seemed 
— by a jumble of dirty-white stakes and 
posts, crossed and criss-crossed with 
planks. Out of a dirty hodge-podge of 
crazy houses, walls black with smoke, 
little inner rooms which for the first 
time saw the white light of day, with 
ragged strips of wall-paper and whitewash 
among rotten beams and rafters straight 
230 



An Accident 

and askew, all of which his stubborn 
labour had made to fall and disappear, and 
out of those deep-dug foundations, out of 
that drudging in the dirty ground, those 
stout walls had grown stone by stone, 
had risen high into the sky — oh, the hard 
work of it ! — and, tapering by degrees, 
had shot up to form that mighty build- 
ing. Wall by wall, wrought at and 
toiled at, held together by pillars run- 
ning beside narrow pointed windows to 
those peaked gable-steps, running into a 
forest of masts, of slanting beams that 
had to bear the roof, the whole of that 
sprawling monster had gradually acquired 
a sense and a meaning and become the 
splendid masterpiece that now stood there, 
solidly fixed against the blue sky like 
a magic crystallized phrase. 

That beginning all over again, day after 
day, at the same work ; all that busy 
stir of men and stones, now high in the 

air, now deep below ; that incessant 
231 



The Path of Life 

climbing up and down those swaying 
ladders : all this had made such a deep 
impression on him, had implanted itself 
into him so firmly that at the first sight 
of it he felt smitten with impotence, with 
a mechanical discouragement that gripped 
his whole being and made him work 
throughout the day as though urged by 
an all-ruling deity set there in the 
symbolic shape of that giant colossus 
at which he toiled. It seemed to him 
that he was an indispensable little part 
of that great building, a small moving 
thing with but a tiny atom of intelligence 
— sometimes — and fatally dragged along 
in that whirling circle, under the behest 
of the masters, who knew their way 
through every stroke and line of the great 
plan, who had all that great work in their 
heads and on paper and who possessed 
the power to bring all that complicated 
machine into operation. And be just 

went to work hke a dog, set going by the 
232 



An Accident 

mournful knocking of the stone-chopper, 
the shrill screech of the toothless iron 
marble-saw and ail the banging and 
knocking and hewing up yonder at the 
top of things. He took his wooden hod, 
filled it with bricks and slowly climbed 
the ladder. He was once more the 
dismal noodle of last week, the hypno- 
tized bag-o' -nerves that let himself be 
swept along in the whirlwind of habit 
and vexation, dazed by that awful huge- 
ness which he was helping to complete 
and driven on by the ever-pursuing pair 
of eyes of his strict foreman. And his 
head ached so ; and he felt so sick ; and 
his legs bent under the load. 

On he had to go and on. His head 
no longer took part in the work ; his 
legs kept on going up and down the 
rungs with those bricks, those everlast- 
ing bricks : he did not know how many, 
just hauled them up, without stopping. 

It seemed to him sometimes that the 
233 



The Path of Life 

whole mass of walls and scaffolding, 
labourers and foremen made but a single 
being : a sort of fearsome deity, some- 
thing like an unwieldy monster with 
inhuman, cruel feelings, something which 
had to be fed with all that workmen's 
sweat ; and all this feverish activity 
seemed to him the whirling along of a 
crowd of unfortunates who had stepped 
into the fatal circle marked out for them, 
never to leave it again. Everything 
seemed so unsteady to-day : those walls 
on which he had to walk tottered ; and 
he took such a pleasure in looking, in 
looking for a long time down below, 
yonder where the men and women were like 
ants and the great blocks of freestone 
became little bricks. It gave him such 
a delicious wriggling in the bowels, a 
tickling in his blood ; and he felt his hair 
tingling on his head. Was not this the 
way to obtain release from that hard labour, 
to get out of that brain-racking circle ? 
234 



An Accident 

Then he held on to a post until he 
recovered his senses; and he went down 
again for more bricks. It came from all 
that beer. 

Yesterday had been a holiday. The 
wooden framework of the roof was 
finished ; and they had nailed the May- 
bough to the top, the joyous emblem of 
difficulties vanquished. It showed up 
grandly there, with its bright green 
leaves so high in the air. The masters 
had granted the men a day off and 
given them plenty of beer. All that 
warm day they had made merry, drink- 
ing and singing and loafing about the 
streets like happy savages. He too had 
revelled with the rest, had been over- 
come by the drink and joined in every- 
thing, from the horseplay in the open 
air to the bestial amusements in those 
dark holes where the populace seeks its 
pleasure, that stimulant for the work of the 
morrow. Then that brutal drunkenness 
235 



The Path of Life 

had come, with the loss of all his senses, 
till he found himself, dog-tired, sick and 
feverish, up in his garret under the tiles. 

To-day the work was twice as irksome. 
That rising warmth which, in the morn- 
ing, while it is still cool, forebodes the 
stifling, paralysing heat of the scorching 
noon-day, tortured his throat and his 
bowels ; he couldn't go ^n. 

" Slacker ! " was the first word flung 
at his head. He stood on the high 
gable-steps and set down his load of 
bricks. That " Slacker ! " played about 
in his head like the smarting pain of a 
lash. He stood looking aimlessly into 
space, indifferent to all that moved and 
lived around him. A shudder ran 
through his body. The wall tottered 
. . . and he was so high up, all alone, 
seen by nobody : such a small creature 
in that blue sky, in that endless space. 
In a clear vision he saw his own figure 
in all its lean wretchedness, cut out like 
236 



An Accident 

a paper silhouette, standing out sharply 
against the sky, such a miserable little 
object : two thin legs, like laths, a little 
stomach, two little sticks of arms and 
that small, everyday, vulgar head. Was 
that he, that tiny atom of this mighty, 
colossal building, that ant on the back 
of this behemoth . . . which had only to 
move to shake him oiF, ever so low down ! 
Ah, here's that delicious wriggling in 
the bowels again ! He has looked 
down. Once more. That's capital : 
something like a feeling of wanting to 
jump down, such an airy, irresponsible 
joy, like flying in a dense, blue sky, 
falling very gently and slowly — oh, 
what fun ! — and then being rid of all 
one's troubles ! . . . And yet there was 
a certain fear about it. He musn't 
look any more. Or just this once . . . 
that was grand ! Once more that awful 
depth, with all those tiny figures, 
yawned below him ; and it was the 
237 



The Path of Life 

little wall that kept him up there so high, 
only that little wall. . . . One move- 
ment, the least little yielding, the least 
bending over : oh, what bliss . . . and 
how frightful ! . . . He became drunk 
with delight, fiUed with the pleasure of 
it ; he gasped, his eyes became unseeing ; 
it was like being wafted along, a gentle 
flight through the air and ... he fell. 
Bumping against a scaffold, clutching 
with hands and feet ; a breaking plank, 
a ghastly yell . . . and then a body 
with arms and legs outspread in space, 
a thunderbolt ... a thud as of a bag 
of earth . . . and there he lay, stretched 
at full length, like a man asleep. That 
scream of distress, that terrible shriek, 
that farewell cry of one who is going 
away for good had sent something like 
an electric shock through all around ; 
work ceased and they scrambled down 
and stood in a great circle around that 
body . . . looking. And a great silence 
238 



An Accident 

followed, that silence which is so heavy 
and oppressive after the sudden stop 
of so much activity. People came 
rushing up, pushing to get closer . . . 
and to see. They tore the poor devil's 
clothes open to find out where he was 
hurt, others ran for help, while fresh 
swarms of folk came crowding up and 
the silence died in an uproar of questions 
and tramping and the wailing of 
women. He lay there, with his peace- 
ful face turned to one side, lay on 
his back, seemingly uninjured ; a few 
drops of blood trickled from his mouth. 
His eyes were closed like those of a 
man asleep. 

" Such a height to fall ! ... So 
young, only a boy ! " 

Others stood chattering loudly, indif- 
ferently, as though about an everyday 
occurrence, or looked up at the wall and 
showed one another from where he had 
tumbled down. 

239 



The Path of Life 

There was a sudden movement in the 
crowd ; people jostled one another. 

" His mother's coming ! " somebody 
whispered. 

They pressed closer and closer to 
watch the effect upon her, the women 
with an anguished consciousness of what 
she must be suffering, that mother-pain 
which they understood so well. The 
men pushed to see what happened, 
because everybody was looking. All 
eyes were fixed on the little woman who 
came running along, with those elderly 
little hurried steps, those two anxious eyes 
which showed all the dread of the 
tragedy they suspected. The people 
made way respectfully, as before one 
who is privileged to approach and 
look upon what is hers. Those who 
could not move back she dragged away 
mercilessly, gripping them with her 
hooked fingers, which she thrust out at 
every side in order to see closer. It 
240 



An Accident 

was her . . . her . . . her son lying there, 
her own son ; and she must get to him. 

She saw him. He lay there and he 
was dead, the son, the child whom 
she had seen leaving that morning 
alive and well. She stood aghast, out 
of breath after the great effort of hurry- 
ing, her throat pinched with distress 
and sorrow and shock, her soul filled 
with all the pent-up tempest that was 
seeking an outlet. Her flat chest heaved 
and all her thin, frail little body quivered ; 
her legs shook beneath her. Slowly and 
painfully the sobs came welling up. 

The people waited in silence, more 
or less disappointed, saddened by all 
that silent grief. Her eyes, the eyes 
of a mother, stared at the dead body ; 
and he did not look at her and he 
slept on and . . . and he was asleep 
for ever, gone for ever : he would never 
see her again ! This last cut into her 
soul ; a shrill scream came from her 

241 Q 



The Path of Life 

throat, she flung her lean brown hands 
together high above her head, wrung 
the crooked, gnarled fingers convulsively 
and then, with her fists clenched in her 
lap, sank impotently to her knees, with 
her head against his. 

" Oh, it's such a pity, oh, it's such a 
pity ! " she moaned ; and the words 
contained all the awful depth of her 
woe, all the concentrated sorrow. " Oh, 
it's such a pity, such a pity ! " she kept 
on repeating, finding no other words to 
express her grief and lending them 
power by force of repetition. 

He remained lying there . . . and 
she remained kneeling ; and all that 
crowd of people stood silently looking 
on, startled and impressed by that sacred, 
solemn mourning. And the impressive 
hush, the silence of all those people, 
the desperate helplessness of those folk, 
she alone suffering and crying and 
unable to help her child and the people 
242 



An Accident 

unwilling to help him : that Impotence 
pierced her soul ; and the patient suffering 
changed into a frenzied madness, a raging 
fury. With a terrible scream, like that 
of a goaded beast, a hoarse yell that 
came grating out of her parched throat, 
she thrust her arms, stiff with pain, 
like two steel rods, under the arms of 
that limp corpse and, with a superhuman 
effort, with Herculean strength exalted 
by suffering, she lifted the corpse, pressed 
it to her body, raised it with her out- 
stretched arms and dragged it, with its 
legs trailing behind it, hurrying along 
at a mad pace, with the one idea of 
getting home with her child, her only 
child, away, far away from that callous 
crowd which desecrated her sorrow : 
there she would weep, sob out all her 
grief and find words, sweet words which 
must throb through her child and wake 
him and bring him back to life ! 

All that packed crowd had first fol- 
243 



The Path of Life 

lowed her with their eyes, struck by 
the sudden outburst of that mad rage ; 
and then they had gone after her, 
inquisitively. And it did not last long 
before the police-constables — those phleg- 
matic posts with which any outbreak 
of undue human emotion must always 
in the end collide — stopped them ; they 
pulled those bony arms from round the 
corpse and took the little mother, now 
hanging slack and limp, one on either side 
by the arm and led her away. The body 
was carried to the mortuary. 

With a resounding oath the foreman 
drove his folk back to work and set all 
that rolling activity going once more. 

The passers-by hastened away ; and 
the saw screeched, the chisel tapped, the 
hammer banged, the bricks were hauled 
up on high and the gorgeous building, 
the pride of a metropolis, stood resplend- 
ent in the glaring white mid-day sun, 

as if nothing had happened. 
244 



WHITE LIFE 



X 

WHITE LIFE 

T_T ER life flowed on as a little brook 
■*■ ■*■ flows under grass on a Sunday noon 
in summer, flowed on in calm seclusion, 
far from the bustle of the crowd, 
secretly, steadily, uninterrupted save by 
ever-recurring little incidents, peacefully 
approaching old age. She sat in her little 
white room, behind the muslin curtains, 
making lace. Her cottage stood a little 
way back from the street, shining behind 
a neatly-raked flower-garden. 

The door was always shut and the cur- 
tains carefully drawn. Inside, everything 
was very clean : smooth, bare walls and 

the ceiling washed with milk-white chalk 
247 



The Path of Life 

through which shone a soft touch of blue ; 
and this bright cleanliness contrasted soberly 
with the things that hung on the wall. 
The chairs and furniture stood placed with 
care, as though nailed to the floor ; over 
the mantel hung the copper Christ, a thin, 
elongated figure of Our Lord, with its 
sharp projections which shone when the 
sun touched them : a little figure which, 
so long dead, hung there so firmly nailed 
and looked so calmly from out of the small 
dark shadow-lines of its face. 

The stove stood freshly blackened, with 
the waved white sand on its polished pipe. ' 
Over the door of the bedroom steps hung 

' The Flemish stove is connected with the 
chimney by a flat pipe, on which the plates and 
other utensils are heated. On Sundays, the stove, 
the pipe and all are blacked and polished with black- 
lead and turpentine ; and it is an old custom of 
neat house-wives to powder the stove-pipe with 
white sand from the dunes. The sand is allowed 
to run through a little opening in the hand in a 
series of fine wavy lines, forming a delicate pattern 
on the black pipe. 

248 



White Life 

the glass case with the waxen image of 
Our Lady, a girlish figure clad in broad 
white folds, with bright-red, cherry cheeks, 
smiling sweetly upon a doll which she 
carried in her arms. On the other wall 
was a glaring framed print, in which a 
Child Jesus romped with curly-headed 
angels in a motley green wood, with 
behind it a sunny perspective gleaming 
with paradisian delights. 

From the ceiling, in a white cage, hung 
the canary, which hopped from one perch 
to the other, all day long, without ever 
singing. On the window-seat, behind the 
little curtains, blossomed tall geraniums 
and phlox, which, through the mesh of the 
muslin curtains, sent a blissful fragrance 
through the room. 

Life went its monotonous gait, measured 
by the slow tick of the hanging clock, that 
big, stupid, laughing face which so piti- 
lessly turned its two unequal fingers round 
and round. Outside, close by, went the 
249 



The Path of Life 

steel blows of the smith's hammer or the 
biting file that grated against her wall. 

The sun that laughed so pleasantly 
through the windows and came and put 
all those things in a white gleaming light 
beamed right through into her little white 
soul : it was yet like that of a child, had 
remained innocent, never been soiled or 
troubled ; and, now that the bad storm- 
time was over, it lay still in the passionless 
restfulness of waning life, quite taken up 
with all manner of harmless occupations, 
devotions and acquired ways of an old, 
god-fearing woman-person. Her face, 
which was wreathed in a round white 
goffered cap, had the smooth, yellow, 
waxen pallor of the statue of Our Lady, in 
church, and her features the severe, sober 
kindliness of nuns'. She was dressed in 
modest, stiffly-falling folds of unrumpled 
lilac silk, like the queens in old prints. 

She spent those long, quiet days at her 
lace-pillow. That was her only amuse- 
250 



White Life 

ment, her treasure : this half-rounded arch 
of smooth, blue paper on the wooden 
pillow-stool, occupied by a swarm of 
copper pins, with coloured-glass heads, and 
of finely-turned wooden bobbins, with 
slender necks and notched bodies, hanging 
side by side from fine white threads or 
heaped up behind a steel bodkin. All 
this array of pins, holes, drawers and trays 
had for her its own form and meaning, a 
small world in which she knew her way 
so well. Her deft white fingers knew 
how to throw, change, catch and pick up 
those bobbins so nimbly, so swiftly ; 
she stuck her pins, which were to give 
the thread its lie and form, so accu- 
rately and surely ; and, under her hand, 
the lace grew slowly and imperceptibly 
into a light thread network, grew with 
the leaves and flowers of her geraniums 
and phlox and the silent course of time. 

'Twas quite a feast when, in the even- 
ing, she wound off the ravelled end and 
251 



The Path of Life 

carefully examined the white web. She 
closely followed all the knots, curves and 
twists of those transparent little veins ; 
and 'twas with regret that she rolled up 
the lace again and put it away in the 
drawer. 

When all her peaceful thoughts had been 
fully pondered, when all that life of every 
day, all that even round of happenings, 
like little white flakes floating in the sunny 
sky, had drifted by through the thought- 
chambers of her soul and when the light 
began to fail out of doors and in, she took 
her rosary and prayed, for hours on end, 
slowly telling the smooth beads between her 
fingers until, when it grew quite dark, she 
started awake and became aware that for 
some time she had been telling the strokes 
of the smith's hammer on the other side of 
the wall. Then she laid herself between 
the white sheets and tried to sleep. 

Two days ago the grid of her stove 
broke and to-day she had taken it to be 
252 



White Life 

mended ; she had been to the smith's and 
now she could not get out of her mind 
what she had seen there : a black cave, 
like an oven, down three steps ; a dark 
hole hung and filled on every side with 
black iron tools; and, amid all this jumble, 
an anvil and, in the red glow from the 
dancing light of the smithy fire, a small, 
stunted, black little fellow, hidden out of 
knowledge in that gloom ; a bent, thin 
little man wound in a leathern apron and 
with a black face, from which a pair of 
good-humoured eyes peered out at her, 
through the shining glasses of his copper- 
rimmed spectacles, like two little lights in 
the dark. She had gone down those three 
steps, looking round shyly, afraid of get- 
ting dirty ; had explained her business to 
that impish little chap ; and had then 
hastily fled from that hell. Now it seemed 
to her that those two eyes had looked at 
her so kindly ; and she wondered how any 
one could live in such a hole and be a 

253 



The Path of Life 

Christian creature . . . and yet that smith 
looked as if he had a good heart. 

Next day, she was thinking again 
of the little man and his dark, haunted 
hole; and she sniffed the scent of her 
geraniums with a new pleasure and 
looked with more gladness at her trim 
little dwelling and her lace-pillow. She 
now enjoyed, realized, with all the 
sensual luxury of her soul, that peaceful 
life of hers, something like that of the 
yellow, waxen Virgin high up there on 
the wall, under her glass shade. And 
yet she was sorry for her good neigh- 
bour : it must be so dreary alone, amid 
all that dirt. . . . She worked at her 
lace, prayed and tried to think of 
nothing more. 

He brought the new grid home him- 
self. At first, she was shy with the 
man : she got up, went to the stove, 
turned back again and only now and then 
dared look at the smith from under her 
2S4 



White Life 

eyes. He was wrapped up in his work, 
stood bending over the stove, trying to 
fix the grid. Seen like that in the 
light, the little chap looked quite 
different to her eyes : he was no longer 
young, his breath came quickly ; but in 
all that he did there was something so 
friendly, so kindly, something almost 
well-mannered, that went oddly with his 
dirty clothes and his black face. The 
little smith was known in the village 
as a lively person, who led a lonely life, 
but who was able also to divert a 
company : he knew his customers and 
knew how to manage them all. Here 
he took good care not to dirty the 
floor : he spat his tobacco-juice into the 
coal-box and touched nothing with his 
hands. When at last the grid was 
fixed, he stayed talking a little : he 
spoke of her nice little life among all 
those white things ; paid her a compli- 
ment on her pretty flowers and shining 
255 



The Path of Life 

copper ; and then came close to look 
at her lace-pillow. Lastly, seeing that 
she was not at her ease, that she 
answered his remarks so shortly and 
hesitatingly, he gave a push to his cap, 
refused to say what she owed him and 
was gone with a skip and a jump. 

One Sunday, after vespers, he came 
again, bowed politely, fetched a bit 
of paper out of his waistcoat-pocket 
and sat down on a chair by the stove. 
This visit annoyed her : with the quick- 
ness with which small-minded people 
weigh and think over a matter, her eyes 
went to the window to see if anybody 
had observed him come in and was 
likely to set evil tongues a-clacking. 
It was almost bound to be so ; and, to 
keep her honour safe, she opened her 
door, mumbling something about "warm 
weather " and " the tobacco-smoke 
which made her cough." 

She went to her room, fetched some 
256 



White Life 

money and paid the bill. The smith 
sat where he was, knocked out his little 
stone pipe and put it in his inside 
pocket ; he did not look at his money 
and, in his hoarse little voice, began to 
talk of quite common things : of wind 
and weather and the current news of 
the village ; always chatting in the 
same tone, a jumble of long, breathless 
statements. From this he went on to 
his dreary, lonely life, the monotonous 
quiet of it and the danger of thieves, sick- 
ness and sudden death. She said not a 
word, but, against the bright window- 
curtains, the sharp, heavy profile of her 
face, together with the flutes of her 
white cap, went up and down in a 
continual nodding assent to everything 
he said. At the end, she took pleasure 
in hearing him talk, nor now looked 
upon that clean-washed face of his as 
at all so ugly. It even did her good 
to see some one sitting there who came 

257 R 



The Path of Life 

to enliven the monotony of tiiat long 
Sunday evening. By her leave, he had 
lighted a fresh pipe ; and she now sat 
sniffing up that unaccustomed smell, 
which rose in little puffs from behind 
the stove and floated round the room, 
filling it with long rows of blue curls. 
'Twas as if she were overcome by that 
quite new smell of tobacco and she felt 
inclined to sleep ; she stood up, to get 
rid of that slackness, shut the front- 
door and, without thinking what she 
was doing, asked if he would have 
some coffee. He nodded, gladly. 

She put the kettle on and got the 
coffee-pot ready, fetched out her best 
cups and spoons and the white sugar. 
When the steam came rushing from 
the spout, she poured water on the 
coffee and they sat down, one on each 
side of the table, to sip the savoury 
drink in tiny draughts. 'Twas long 

since she had felt so comfortable and 

258 



White Life 

for the first time she thought with 
dislike of her lonely life. 'Twas late 
when he went home ; she came with 
him to the door . . . and saw black 
figures that strolled past in the street 
and perhaps had seen him leave. She 
had bad dreams all night : the people 
pointed their fingers at her and slan- 
derous tongues spread ugly things 
about her. The whole of the next day 
her thoughts were in the smithy ; she 
swept the pavement more carefully and 
farther than usual, went now and then 
and looked out of window ; and her little 
curtains were left open with a split in 
the middle. Yesterday, she had for- 
gotten to give the canary fresh water to 
drink. The people looked at her in 
the street ; two or three god-fearing 
gossips had let her walk home alone. 
This gave her great pain ; 'twas as 
though a heavy load were weighing 
day and night on her breast ; and yet 
259 



The Path of Life 

she was not sorry for what had hap- 
pened. All these trifles could not make 
her forget her content. She said her 
prayers and performed her little duties 
with as much care as before and lived 
on, alone. 

On Sunday, she went to church very 
early and prayed long : it did her so 
much good, that delightful whispering 
with God, that sweet kind Lord Who 
listened to her so patiently and always 
sent her away with fresh courage, 
strengthened to walk on bravely along 
life's irksome way. Sometimes she was 
frightened at her behaviour ! She was 
gnawed by a reproachful thought : that 
she had left the straight path, that she 
no longer lived for God alone, that she 
was forgetting her dear saints and busy 
with sinful thoughts. And yet, when 
she carefully considered everything, 
nothing had happened that seemed to 
her blameworthy ; all that change in 
260 



White Life 

her life had come as of itself and in 
spite of herself; and really, after all, 
there was no harm in it. She prayed 
for that good man, who certainly needed 
her spiritual aid : he went so seldom to 
church and lived in such a dreary 
black hole. Her prayers and interest 
would for sure bring him to a better 
frame of mind. And yet she must 
watch, keep strong, avoid the dangers : 
her honour was a tender thing ; and 
people were wicked. She stayed longer 
than usual in the confessional and 
offered special prayers to every saint 
in the church. 

When she was back at home, she 
began her little Sunday duties : the lace- 
pillow was put away that day and she 
did nothing but arrange things, put things 
in their places, gather a fresh nosegay 
for the porcelain vase before Our Lady's 
statue and see to her cooking. She 
picked the withered leaves from the 
261 



The Path of Life 

geraniums, bound the branches of the 
phlox to the trellis and gave them fresh 
water from a little flowered can. She 
was specially fond of her little pot of 
musk : it stood on the window-seat, 
opposite her chair, carefully set in a rush 
cage stuck into the earth and fastened 
at the top with a thread. Sometimes 
she took it on her lap, bent her face 
over it and sniffed the pleasant smell 
in long draughts, until she was almost 
drunk with it. 

In the afternoon, she sat down at the 
window and read her Thomas a Kempis. 
Then all was quite still : no hammering 
behind the wall, no boys in the street, 
only the soft tapping of the canary in 
his food-trough and the tick of the 
pendulum ; everything was quiet as 
though in an enchanted sleep. The 
sun glowed through the geranium - 
leaves and cast on the red-tiled floor a 
broad, round shadow which took the 
262 



White Life 

whole afternoon to creep from the legs 
of the stove to the front-door. 

The flies buzzed round on the rafters 
of the ceiling or ran along the cracks of 
the white-scoured table. Her thoughts 
wandered wearily and lazily through the 
wise maxims of her book and she some- 
times sat peering at the funny shape of 
a coloured initial which, after long looking, 
became such a silly figure, one that no 
longer looked in the least like a letter, 
but was rather something in the form 
of a vice. . . . The lines of print ran 
into one another, the maxims said all 
sorts of foolish things, her eyes closed, 
her head nodded and she sank, with all 
those peaceful things, into perfect rest. 

After dinner, the smith had had a sleep ; 
then he washed his face, put on his best 
clothes and went past her window to ves- 
pers. In the evening, she saw him again 
when he went to the customers for a pot of 
beer : this time he gave her a friendly nod. 
263 



The Path of Life 

For her, Sunday passed like all the 
other days ; she prayed longer and closed 
her shutter earlier for fear of the 
drunkards. After saying a long row of 
graces which she knew by heart, she 
went to her bedroom. In the stuffy air 
of that closed upper chamber, she lay 
thinking. She was not sleepy and it was 
nice, in the evening stillness, covered in 
her white sheets, to lie with her eyes look- 
ing through the split in the white curtains 
at the moon which hung shining outside. 

Now she gave free scope to her thoughts, 
until all of that had again been pondered 
round and pondered out. Then it became 
so funny to her: 'twas as if she were 
long dead now and floating in a pale 
and scented air in the company of sweet 
saints and angels. But it was oh, so hazy 
and indistinct ! It always escaped her 
when she wauled to enjoy it more closely 
and to give the thing a name. 

It was night when the smith came 
264 



White Life 

home, a little tipsy, deceived by his 
great thirst and the double effect of the 
beer in that warm weather. He was very 
cheery, without really knowing why ; 
something like a soft buzzing fire ran 
through all his body and made him 
tingle with happiness. They had chaffed 
him that evening about the old maid 
next door and he now felt inclined just 
to tell her about it. 

Wasn't it a shame for two people to 
lie here so quietly and drearily, parted by 
a bit of a wall, when they could have 
been amusing each other ? . . . His white 
neighbour was sure to be asleep by now 
. . . and, if he only dared . . . and, 
quicker indeed than he intended, he gave 
three little taps on the wall and lay 
listening, all agog. . . . Three like little 
taps answered ! This was so unexpected 
that at first he sat wondering whether he 
could believe his ears ; then he began to 
swim and sprawl in his bed, bit his teeth 
265 



The Path of Life 

so as not to shout out his overflowing 
delight and started banging on the wall, 
this time with his fists. It was too late 
to-night : to-morrow, he would go to her 
and ask her . . . and then they would 
both . . . and he would no longer be 
alone, always alone, and would have some 
one to care for him, to look after him. 
... In all this happiness he drowsed off 
gently, rocked in another world, like a 
little wax doll in a pale-blue paper box. 

She had started out of her sleep at those 
three taps and had answered, not knowing 
why ; then she had got frightened at 
that wild man behind her wall, had 
jumped out of bed and struck a light 
and sat waiting until the noise stopped ; 
then she commended her soul into the 
Lord's hands and fell softly asleep. 

The first time that he went to see her, he 
found the door shut. Once, when he met 
her in the street, she kept her eyes care- 
fully cast down and passed him without a 
266 



White Life 

sign of greeting. Her curtains remained 
drawn and she never came to the door 
now. He went home and sat musing 
on his anvil. All his plan was blown to 
bits ; he found himself sadly duped and 
turned red with anger when folk spoke of 
his dear neighbour. He hammered and 
filed from morning till night ; and she 
must now be making her lace. 

Time pushed past, divided into even 
days, along a smooth road that led down 
the mountain-slope of summer. The leaves 
fell from the geraniums and the phlox. 
The neatly-cut-out paper fly-catcher was 
put away and the lamp hung up in its 
place. With the sad, short days came the 
grey, misty sky, the dismal, dripping rain 
and the white snow. The village lay dead 
for half the day, dark, with here and 
there a little ray of light gleaming through 
the shutters. 

And it became gradually drearier for 
her : that calm rest, in which she had 
267 



The Path of Life 

once found such a pure delight, was now 
a heavy weariness. She longed for change, 
for something different which she could 
not justly define, or else to live again 
as before, alone and with nothing but 
herself. She had struggled and fought 
to rid herself of that obsession, but it 
followed her everywhere : she saw him 
go by, even when her eyes were fixed 
on the lace-pillow, the stove, or the chair 
on which he had sat ; and there was that 
constant hammering and scratching behind 
her wall : everywhere she saw those two 
kind eyes behind the copper rims of his 
spectacles ; and she sometimes caught her- 
self contentedly tracing the good-natured 
features of his little black face. She had 
prayed more than ever and evoked quite 
new saints ; and now she let herself drift 
along at God's pleasure, no longer even 
thinking of her weakness. Perhaps she 
was the instrument of a Blessed Providence, 
destined blindly to do good. 
268 



White Life 

The little curtains had long been pushed 
apart again ; and, each time that she heard 
approaching footsteps, her heart went 
beating and her eyes looked eagerly to 
see if by chance ... it was not he. 

Sometimes, an anxious fluttering drove 
her to the front-door, where she stood 
looking round for a while and then, 
ashamed of herself, went indoors again. 
Quite against her habit, she now made 
use of her glass : in the middle of her 
work, she went to see if the two glossy 
black tresses lay neatly on her forehead 
and if the ribbons of her cap were properly 
tied and fastened. She put on her 
clothes more carefully and folded and 
refolded her kerchief till it enclosed her 
body in a pretty shape. From before the 
moment of starting for church, her heart 
began to beat ; she shut her garden-gate 
more noisily and stepped loudly along 
the pavement until she came to the smith's 
first window, firmly resolved this time 
269 



The Path of Life 

at least to look up and say good-morning ; 
but she always met some one who noticed 
her ; and she was in church by the 
time that, with a sigh, she had put off 
her intention until next day. 

At night, in bed, she lay thinking over 
all these little events ; and it was a glad day 
or a sad day for her according as she had 
more or less often caught sight of the little 
smith. 

One evening, after benediction, she saw 
him come walking under the trees of the 
churchyard. Not a soul saw them. Now 
she really must have courage ; but again 
the blood came to her throat and she felt 
that once again it would lead to nothing. 
He had j ust looked round before she came 
up to him and then he sat down on the 
stone step before the Calvary, as though 
he wanted to chat with her there at his 
ease : 

" Good-evening, Sofie," he said, with a 
smile. " Have you been to say your 
270 



White Life 

prayers. Don't you ever say a little one 
for me ? I want it so badly : my soul's as 
black as ray apron and I can't even read a 
prayer-book. . . ." 

He made all this speech in a soft, 
fondling little tone and then sat smirking 
to see what she would say. There was 
nothing that she longed for more than to 
save his soul : 

" Can you say the Rosary ? " she asked. 

" Yes, but I haven't one." 

" Would you like me to give you 
one?" 

" Oh, rather , . . if you'll be so good ! " 

She bent close to him and whispered in 
his ear : 

" Come and fetch it, to-morrow evening, 
when it's dark." 

They walked together through the peace- 
ful twilit churchyard and, with a cordial 
" Good-evening," went home well pleased 
with themselves. 

For her it was an endless day ; all the 
271 



The Path of Life 

time she stood considering what she should 
say to him. He was coming and would sit 
smoking there again behind the stove. 
Already she heard his pleasant, whispering 
talk and saw his kind, upturned glance. She 
moved about restlessly to set everything in 
order. The shutters were closed quite early 
and the lamp burning. Now she went and 
had one more look outside and it was pitch- 
dark, with never a moon. On the stroke 
of eight, the door opened : he was there, 
with his Sunday jacket on, his red scarf 
and his leather shoes. She was most 
friendly, but did not at first know how to 
begin the conversation. 

He lit his pipe and snuffled some news 
of the village and of people who were 
married, sick or dead. She made coffee, 
turned up the lamp and opened her bed- 
room door to give an outlet to the tobacco- 
smoke. Straight opposite him, deep in the 
half-darkness, he saw all that show of white : 
against the wall stood the bed, under a 
272 



White Life 

white canopy of curtains hanging in folds, 
set off with a white ball-fringe ; also a 
praying-desk with velvet cushions, above 
which was an image of the Sacred Heart, 
with gold flowers, and, hanging from a 
brass chain, a perpetual light glimmering 
in a little red glass ; and, all around, on 
the white walls, little statues and pictures, 
like a devout little tabernacle ashine with 
cleanliness. They drank their fragrant 
cup of coffee and nibbled lumps of white 
sugar. 

" And my rosary ? " he asked. 

She fetched it out of the drawer of her 
lace pillow and came and sat close to him 
to teach him how to say it : 

" Here, at the little cross, the I Believe 
in God the Father ; then, at each big bead, 
an Our Father ; and, at the little ones, a 
Hail Mary." 

He sat with his legs drawn under his 
chair, with one hand at his chin, listening 
good-humouredly and, with a smile, 
273 s 



The Path of Life 

repeating all she taught him. Her eyes 
shone with happiness. Now the talk 
went easily on church matters and all 
the things of her pious little life ; she 
showed him the pictures in her prayer- 
book, explained all the attributes of the 
saints and told long stories of their lives 
and martyrdoms. 

He, also, told her of his youth, when he 
made his first communion and was the 
best little man in the whole village. It 
was striking ten when he went home ; 
and he had promised to come and listen 
to her again. 

Every evening, when it grew dark, he 
sat peeping to see if there was no one in 
the street and then cautiously crept in 
through her gate. He brought her old 
books from his loft ; and, while he smoked 
his pipe, she lit the candle before the statue 
of Our Lady and started talking, very 
gently, so as not to be heard outside. She 
read whole chapters out of Thomas a 
274 



White Life 

Kempis and The Pious Pilgrim, The Dove 
amongst the Rocks, The Spiritual Bridegroom, 
or The Sacred Meditations. They sat there 
for hours at a time gazing at each other 
and smiling. When it grew late, she went 
and looked outside and, when the moment 
was favourable, she carefully let him out. 
She thanked Our Lord for making her so 
happy and often prayed that it might 
last and she win the smith's soul for 
Heaven and that their doing might all the 
same be kept hidden from wicked people. 
St. Eloi's Day is the holiday of smiths 
and husbandmen. In the morning, the 
farmers all went together to mass and 
thence, after a glass, to settle their yearly 
reckoning at the smith's. At noon there 
was a big dinner at the inn. They ate 
much and drank more ; and, from after- 
noon till late in the evening, the smiths' 
men and the peasants loafed along the 
streets and sang ribald songs. The 
steadiest of them walked about talking, 
275 



The Path of Life 

from one tavern to the other. They were 
nearly all drunk. She sat peeping at it 
from behind her curtain and was vexed 
at all this wantonness and rather glad that 
she had not yet seen " him " anywhere. 
She said her evening prayers and was just 
going to bed when she heard the door open 
and the smith stepped in. 

He carried his pipe upside down in his 
mouth, his eyes looked wild and his speech 
was incoherent. She had never seen him 
like that ; and she was frightened at his 
strange gestures. She wanted him to sit 
down, but he came up to her with his arms 
open, as if to catch hold of her. She 
stepped back in afFright, pushed him away 
from her. His breath stank of drink and 
his thin legs tottered under him. She 
began to beseech him, that it was late and 
that he should go home and that people 
would know. . . . But his eyes looked at 
her roguishly and, with bent head and 
outstretched arms, he kept on trying to 
276 



White Life 

come closer. Filled with dread, she 
wavered away behind the tables and chairs, 
whimpering : 

" If you please, if you please, Sander, go 
home ; you frighten me ! " 

Suddenly, he nipped out the flame of 
the lamp with his fingers. It was 
quite dark. 

" Sander ! Sander ! What do you 
want ? Heavens ! He's drunk ! And I'm 
here all alone ! Lord God, St. Catherine, 
help ! " 

He still spoke not a word, but 
uttered ugly growls ; and she heard 
his hands rub and grope along the wall, 
against herself. She pulled open the 
door of her bedroom and fled up the 
stairs and fell in a heap in the corner 
beside her bed. There she sat waiting, 
out of breath. . . . Yes, his heavy shoes 
had found the steps ; and, still growling, 
he entered the room. He felt the bed, 
lay down flat on his stomach and reached 
377 



The Path of Life 

out with his arms ; then he found 
her sitting sighing. She felt those two 
weedy arms grasp her and was caught 
in them as in an iron band. She 
moaned and screamed for help. His 
dirty, slimy mouth pressed her lips . . . 
and then she felt herself sink away, out 
of the world. The people who heard 
the cries came to see what was the 
matter. They hauled the drunkard out- 
side and laid her on the bed. When 
they saw that she was better, they went 
away again. 

She lay stretched out slackly in the 
dark. First, still quite overcome, as 
though drunk with sleep, she slowly, 
through that dim whirl of stormy thoughts, 
came to understand what had happened : 
all her misfortune, which yawned before 
her like a deep, black well. She was 
ashamed, disgusted with herself and 
felt a great aversion, a loathing for 
all the world : people were a pack of 
278 



White Life 

lustful pigs. . . . And he too : that 
was over now, suddenly over, for good 
and all. . . . And he . . . no, he had 
deceived her, grievously defiled her. 
And now to have to go on living like 
that ! It was done past recall : she 
was punished for her trustfulness . . . 
and those same kind eyes and that 
friendly face ; only yesterday, they had 
said their evening prayers together and 
so devoutly ! Oh, 'twas such a pity ! 
And what would people say ? . . . And 
the priest? . . . And Our Lord and 
all His dear saints ? . . She fell into 
ever-deepening despair and saw never a 
way out. Very far away shone her 
pure little life of former days, her white 
and peaceful little soul floating in that 
unruffled blue sanctity, in that fragrant 
twilight of evening after evening . . . 
and all this he had now crushed in one 
second and stamped to pieces. And 
he was dead to her, he with whom she 
279 



The Path of Life 

had dreamed so sweetly and lived in 
glad expectation. In her wretchedness, 
she was left stark alone, abandoned 
like a poor babe in the snow. She 
plunged her face into the white sheets 
and cried. She would have liked to 
pine away there, in that kindly darkness, 
and never, never to see daylight again. 



THE END 



XI 

THE END 

"^EEN pulled up his bent back, wiped 
^-^ the sweat from his forehead with 
his bare arm and drew a short breath. 

Zalia, with her head close to the ground, 
went on binding her sheaves. 

The sun was blazing. 

After a while, Zeen took up his sickle 
again and went on cutting down the 
corn. With short, even strokes, with a 
swing of his arm, the sickle rose and, 
with a " d-zin-n-n " fell at the foot of 
the cornstalks and brought them down in 
great armfuls. Then they were hooked 
away and dragged back in little even 
heaps, ready to be bound up. 
283 



The Path of Life 

It did not last long : he stopped 
again, looked round over all that power 
of corn which still had to be cut and 
beyond, over that swarming plain, which 
lay scorching, so hugely far, under that 
merciless sun. He saw Zalia look 
askant because he did not go on working 
and, to account for his resting, drew 
his whetstone from his trouser-pocket 
and began slowly to sharpen the sickle. 

" Zalia, it's so hot." 

" Yes, it's that," said Zalia. 

He worked on again, but slowly, 
very slackly. 

The sweat ran in great drops down 
his body ; and sometimes he felt as if 
he would tumble head foremost into 
the corn. Zalia heard his breath come 
short and fast ; she looked at him and 
asked what was the matter His arms 
dropped feebly to his sides ; and the 
hook and sickle fell from his hands. 

" Zalia, I don't know . . . but some- 
284 



The End 

thing's catching my breath like ; and my 
eyes are dim. . . ." 

" It's the heat, Zeen, it'll wear off. 
Take a pull." 

She fetched the bottle of gin from 
the grass edge of the field, poured a 
sip down his throat and stood looking 
to see how it worked : 

" Well ? " 

Zeen did not answer, but stood there 
shivering and staring, with his eyes fixed 
on a bluebonnet in the cut corn. 

" Come, come, Zeen, get it done ! 
Have just another try : it'll get cooler 
directly and we'll be finished before dark." 

" Oh, Zaiia, it's so awfully hot here 
and it'll be long before it's evening ! " 

" But, Zeen, what do you feel ? " 

Zeen made no movement. 

" Are you ill .? " 

" Yes, I am, Zalia. No, not ill, but 
I feel so queer and I think I ought to 
go home." 

285 



The Path of Life 

Zalia did not know what to do : she 
was frightened and did not understand 
his funny talk. 

" If you're ill . . . if you can't go on, 
you'd better get home quick : you're 
standing there like a booby." 

Zeen left his sickle on the ground 
and went straight off the field. She 
saw him go slowly, the poor old soul, 
lurching like a drunken man, and dis- 
appear behind the trees. Then she 
took her straw-band and bundled up all 
the little heaps of corn, one after the 
other, and bound them into sheaves. 
She next took the sickle and the hook 
and just went cutting away like a man : 
stubbornly, steadily, with a frenzied 
determination to get it done. The more 
the corn fell, the quicker she made the 
sickle whizz. 

The sweat ran down her face ; now 
and then, she jogged back the straw hat 
from over her eyes to see how much 
286 



The End 

was left standing and then went on 
cutting, on and on. She panted in the 
doing of it. . . . She was there alone, 
on that outstretched field, in that heat 
which weighed upon her like a heavy 
load ; it was stifling. She heard no 
sound besides the swish of her steel and 
the rustling of the falling corn. 

When at last she could go on no 
longer, she took a sip at the bottle and 
got new strength. 

The sun was low in the sky when 
she stood there alone on the smooth 
field, with all the corn lying flat at her 
feet. Then she started binding. 

The air grew cooler. When the last 
sheaf was fastened in its straw-band and 
they now stood set up in heavy stooks, 
like black giants in straight rows, it 
began to grow dark. She wiped the 
sweat from her face, slipped on her blue 
striped jacket, put the bottle in her hat, 
took the sickle and hook on her shoulder 
287 



The Path of Life 

and, before going, stood for a while 
looking at her work. She could now 
see so very far across that close-shorn 
plain ; she stood there so alone, so tall 
in that stubble-field, everything lay so 
flat and, far away over there, the trees 
stood black and that mill and the fellow 
walking there : all as though drawn 
with ink on the sky. It seemed to her 
as if the summer was now past and 
that heavy sultriness was a last cramped 
sigh before the coming of the short days 
and the cold. 

She went home. Zeen was ill and it was 
so strange to be going back without him. 
It was all so dreary, so dim and deadly, 
so awful. Along the edge of the deep 
sunken path the grasshoppers chirped here 
and there, all around her : an endless 
chirping on every side, all over the grass 
and the field ; and it went like a gentle 
woof of voices softly singing. This 
singing at last began to chatter in her 
288 



The End 

ears and it became a whining rustle, a 
deafening tumult and a painful laughter. 
From behind the pollard her cat jumped 
on to the path : it had come to the 
field to meet her and, purring cosily, 
was now arching its back and loitering 
between Zalia's legs until she stroked it ; 
then it ran home before her with great 
bounds. The goat, hearing steps approach, 
put its head over the stable-door and 
began to bleat. 

The house-door was open ; as she went 
in, Zalia saw not a thing before her eyes, 
but she heard something creaking on the 
floor. It was Zeen, trying to scramble 
to his feet when he heard her come in. 

" Zeen ! " she cried. 

"Yes," moaned Zeen. 

" How are you ? No better yet ? 
Where are you .''... Why are you 
lying flat on the floor like this.?" 

" Zalia, I'm so ill . . . my stomach 
and ..." 

289 T 



The Path of Life 

" You've never been ill yet, Zeen ! 
It won't be anything this time." 

"I'm ill now, Zalia." 

"Wait, I'll get a light. Why aren't 
you in bed .'' " 

" In bed, in bed . . . then it'll be for 
good, Zalia ; I'm afraid of my bed." 

She felt along the ceiling for the lamp, 
then in the corner of the hearth for the 
tinder-box ; she struck fire and lit up. 

Zeen looked pale, yellow, deathlike. 
Zalia was startled by it, but, to comfort him : 

" It'll be nothing, Zeen," she said. 
" I'll give you a little Haarlem oil." 

She pulled him on to a chair, fetched the 
little bottle, put a few drops into a bowl 
of milk and poured it down his throat. 

" Is it doing you good ? " 

And Zeen, to say something, said : 

"Yes, it is, Zalia, but I'd like to go 

to sleep, I'm feeling cold now and I've 

got needles sticking into my side . . . 

here, see ? " 

290 



The End 

And he pressed both his hands on the 
place. 

" Yes, you're better in bed ; it'll be 
gone in the morning and we'll fetch 
in the corn." 

" Is it cut ? " 

" All done and stooked ; if it keeps 
fine to-morrow, we'll get it all into the 
barn." 

Zalia lifted him under his armpits 
and they crawled on like that into the 
other room, where the loom stood with 
the bed behind it. She helped him take 
off his jacket and trousers and put him 
to bed, tucked him nicely under the 
blanket and put his night-cap on his head. 

Then she went and lit the fire in the 
hearth, hung up the pot with the goat's 
food, washed the potatoes and sat down 
to peel them for supper. 

She had not peeled three, when she 
heard Zeen bringing up. 

"That's the oil, it'll do him good," 
291 



The Path of Life 

she thought and, fetching a can of water 
from outside, gave him a bowl to drink. 

Then she went back to her peehng. 
A bit later, she sat thinking of other 
remedies — limeflowers, sunflower-seeds, 
pearl barley, flowers of sulphur — when 
suddenly she saw Mite Kornelje go by. 
She ran out and called : 

" Mite ! " 

"What is it, Zalia ? " 

"Mite, Zeen is ill. 

" What, ill ? All at once ? " 

" Yes, all of a sudden, cutting the corn 
in the field." 

" Is he bad ? " 

" I don't know, I've given him some 
Haarlem oil, he's been sick ; he's com- 
plaining of pains in his side and in his 
stomach ; he's very pale : you wouldn't 
know him," 

They went indoors. Zalia took the 
lamp and both passed in, between the 
loom and the wall by Zeen's bed. 
292 



The End 

He lay staring at the ceiling and 
catching his breath. Mite stood looking 
at him. 

" You must give him some English 
salt, I Zalia." 

" Why, Mite, I never thought of that ; 
yes, he must have some English salt." 

And she climbed on to a chair and 
took from the plank above the bed a 
dusty calabash full of little paper bags 
and packets. 

She opened them one by one and 
found canary-seed, blacklead, washing- 
blue, powdered cloves, cinnamon, sugar- 
candy, burnt-ash . . . but no English 
salt. 

" I'll run home and fetch some, Zalia." 

"Yes, Mite, do." 

And Mite went off. 

" Well, Zeen, no better yet ? " 

Zeen did not answer. She took a 
pail of water and a cloth, cleaned away 
' Epsom salts. 
293 



The Path of Life 

the mess from beside the bed and then 
went back to peel her potatoes. 

Mite came back with the Enghsh salt. 
Treze Wizeur and Stanse Zegers, who 
had heard the news, also came to see 
how Zeen was getting on. Mite stirred 
a handful of the salt in a bowl of water 
and they all four went to the sick man's 
bed. Zeen swallowed the draught with- 
out blinking. Mite knew of other 
remedies, Stanse knew of some too and 
Treze of many more : they asked Zeen 
questions and babbled to him, made him 
put out his tongue and felt his pulse, 
cried out at his gasping for breath and 
his pale colour and his dilated pupils 
and his burning fever. Zeen did not 
stir and lay looking at the ceiling. When 
he was tired of the noise, he said : 

" Leave me alone." 

And he turned his face to the wall. 

Then they all went back to the kitchen. 
The goat's food was done. Zalia hung the 
294 



The End 

kettle with water on the hook and made 
cofFee ; and the tour women sat round the 
table telling one another stories of illness. 
In the other room there was no sound. 

A bit later, Mite's little girl came to 
see where mother was all this time. She 
was given a lump of sugar and sat down 
by her mother. 

" Zalia, have you only one lamp.''" 
asked Treze. 

"That's all, Treze, but I have the 
candle." 

" What candle ? " 

" The blessed candle." 

" We've not come to that yet : it's 
only that Zeen has to lie in the dark 
like this and we have to go to and 
fro with the lamp to look at him," 

" Zeen would rather lie in the dark." 

" I'll tell you what : Fietje shall run 
home and fetch something, won't you, 
Fietje ? And say that mother is going 
to stay here because Zeen is dying." 
295 



The Path of Life 

Fietje went off. The coffee was ready 
and when they had gulped down their 
first bowl, they went to have another 
look in the room where the sick man 
lay. 

Zeen was worse. 

" We must sit up with him," said 
Stanse. 

" For sure," said Treze. " I'll go and 
tell my man : I'll be back at once." 

" Tell Free as you're passing that 
I'm staying here too," said Stanse. 

" We must eat, for all that," said 
Zalia ; and she hung the potatoes over 
the fire. 

Then she went to milk the goat and 
take it its food. It was bright as day 
outside and quiet, so very quiet, with 
still some of the heat of the sun linger- 
ing in the air, which weighed sultrily. 
She crept into the dark goat-house, put 
down the pot with the food and started 

milking. 

396 



The End 

" Betje, Betje, Zeen is so ill ; Zeen 
may be dying, Betje ! " 

She always clacked to her goat like 
that. Two streams of milk came clat- 
tering in turns into the little pail. 

People came : Treze and Mite's little 
girl, with a lantern, and Barbara Dekkers, 
who had also come to have a look. 

" I'm here," said Zalia, " I've done, 
I'm coming at once." 

They stood talking a bit outside in 
the moonlight and then went in. 

" Perhaps my man'U come on," said 
Treze. " A man is better than three 
women in illness ; and Virginie's coming 
too : I've been to tell her." 

"Well, well," said Barbara, "who'd 
ever have thought it of Zeen ! " 

" Yes, friends, and never been ill in 
his life ; and he turned seventy." 

Stanse mashed the potatoes ; Zalia 

poured a drain of milk over them and 

hung them over the fire again. 
297 



The Path of Life 

" Have you all had your suppers ? " 
she asked. 

" Yes," said Treze and Barbara and 
Mite. 

" I haven't," said Stanse. 

Zalia turned the steaming potato-mash 
into an earthen porringer and she and 
Stanse sat down to it. The others drank 
a fresh bowl of coffee. 

They were silent. 

The door opened and from behind 
the screen came a great big fellow with 
a black beard : 

" What's up here ? A whole gathering 
of people : is it harvest-treat to-day, Zalia ? 
Why, here's Barbara and Mite and . . ." 

" Warten, Zeen is ill." 

"Zeen? . . . 111.?" 

"Yes, ill, man, and we're sitting up." 

Warten opened wide eyes, flung the 

box which he carried over his shoulder 

by a leather strap to the ground and 

sat down on it : 

298 



The End 

" Ha ! So Zeen's ill . . . he's not 
one of the youngest either." 

"Seventy- five." 

They were silent. The womenfolk 
drank their coffee. Warten fished out 
a pipe and tobacco from under his blue 
smock and sat looking at the rings of 
smoke that wound up to the ceiling. 

" Well, perhaps I've come at the right 
time, if that's so." 

" You can help sit up." 

" Have you had your supper, Warten .'' " 

" Yes, Zalia, at the farm." 

" And how's trade ? " asked Stanse. 

"Quietly, old girl." 

They heard a moaning in the other 
room. Barbara lit the lantern and all went 
to look. Warten stayed behind, smoking. 

Zeen lay there, on a poverty-stricken 
little bed, low down near the ground, 
behind the loom, huddled deep on his bol- 
ster under a dirty blanket : a thin little 

black chap, leaning against a pillow in the 
299 



The Path of Life 

dancing twilight of the lantern. His eyes 
were closed and his bony face half-hidden 
in the blue night-cap. His breath rustled ; 
and each puff from his hoarse throat, 
blowing out the thin flesh of his cheeks, 
escaped through a little opening on one 
side of his sunken lips, which each time 
opened and shut. 

" Ooh ! Ooh ! Ooh ! " cried Barbara. 

" That's bad, that's bad," said Stanse 
and shook her head. 

" His eyes are shut and yet he's not 
asleep ! " 

" Zeen ! Zeen ! " cried Mite and she 
pushed him back by his forehead to 
make him look up. " Zeen ! Zeen ! 
It's I : don't you know Mite ? " 

"Oof!" sighed Zeen; and his head 
dropped down again without his eyes 
opening. 

" He's got the fever," said Barbara. 

"Just feel how his forehead's burning 

and he's as hot as fire." 
300 



The End 

" Haven't you poulticed him ? " asked 
Stanse. " He wants poultices on his 
feet : mustard." 

" We haven't any mustard and it's far 
to the village." 

" Then he must have a bran bath, 
Zalia. Stanse, put on the kettle." 

"Have you any bran, Zalia.-'" 

" No, not ready ; but there's maize." 

" And a sieve ? " 

" Yes, there's a sieve." 

" Hi, Warten, come and sift ! " 

Warten came in : 

" Zeen, how are you, my boy ? Oh, 
how thin he is ! And his breath . . . 
it's spluttering, that's bad. He'll go off 
quickly, Barbara, it seems to me." 

" Not to-night," said Treze. 

" Warten, go to the loft, take the 
lamp and sift out a handful of maize ; 
Zeen must have a bran bath at once." 

Warten went up the stair. After a 
while, they heard above their heads the 
301 



The Path of Life 

regular, jogging drag ot the sieve over 
the boarded ceiling and the fine meal- 
dust snowed down through the cracks, 
whirling round the lamp, and fell on 
Zeen's bed and on the women standing 
round. 

Zeen nodded his head. They held 
a bowl of milk to his mouth ; two little 
white streaks ran down from the corners 
of his mouth into his shirt-collar. 

The sieve went on dragging. The 
women looked at Zeen, then at one 
another and then at the lantern. In 
the kitchen, the kettle sang drearily. . . . 

Warten came down from the loft with 
half a pailful of bran. Barbara poured 
the steaming water on it and flung in a 
handful of salt. 

They took the clothes off the bed and 
pulled his feet into the bran-water. Zeen 
groaned ; he opened his eyes wide and 
looked round wildly at all those people. 

He hung there for a very long time, 

302 



The End 

with his lean black legs out of the bed 
and the bony knees and shrunk thighs in 
the insipid, sickly-smelling steam of the 
bran-water. Then they lifted him out 
and stuck his wet feet under the bed- 
clothes again. Zeen did not stir, but 
just lay with the rattle in his throat. 

" What a sad sick man," said Stanse, 
softly. 

Mite wanted to give him some food, 
eggs : it might be faintness. 

Treze wanted to bring him round 
with gin : her husband had once , . . 

"Is there any, for the night.'' . . ." 
asked Stanse. 

" There's a whole bottle over there, 
in the cupboard." 

Zeen opened his eyes — two green, 
glazed eyes, which no longer saw things 
— and wriggled his arms from under 
the clothes : 

" Why don't you make the goat stop 
bleating ? " he stammered. 
303 



The Path of Life 

They looked at one another. 

" Zalia, why won't you speak to me ? 
. . . And what are all these people doing 
here ? . . . I don't want any one to help 
me die ! . . . I and Zalia ... I and 
Zalia . . . Look, how beautiful ! Zalia, 
the procession's going up the wall there 
. . . Why don't you look ? . . . It's so 
beautiful ! . . . And I, I'm the only 
ugly one in it. . . ." 

" He's wandering," whispered Treze. 

" And what's that chap doing here, 
Zalia ? " 

" It's I, Zeen, I : Warten the spectacle- 
man." 

His eyes fell to again and his cheeks 
again blew the breath through the little slit 
of his mouth. It rattled ; and the fever rose. 

"It'll be to-night," said Treze. 

" Where can Virginie be ? She'll 
come too late." 

"Virginie is better than three doctors 
or a priest either," thought Mite. 
304 



The find 

"Zalia, I think I'd get out the 
candle." 

Zalia went to the chest and got out 
the candle. 

" Mother, I'm frightened," whined 
Fietje, 

" You mustn't be frightened of dead 
people, child ; you must get used to it." 

" Have you any holy water, Zalia ? " 

" Oh, yes, Barbara : it's in the little 
pot over the bed ! " 

" And blessed palm .? " 

" Behind the crucifix." 

There was a creaking in the kitchen 
and Virginie appeared past the loom : a 
little old woman huddled in her hooded 
cloak ; in one hand she carried a little lan- 
tern and in the other a big prayer-book. 
She came quietly up to the bed, looked 
at Zeen for some time, felt his pulse and 
then, looking up, said, very quietly : 

" Zeen's going. . . . Has the priest 
been ? " 

30s u 



The, Path of Life 

" The priest ? . . . It's so far and 
so late and the poor soul's so old. . , ." 

" What have you given him ? " 

" Haarlem oil, English salt . . ." 

" And we put his feet in bran water." 

Virginie stood thinking. 

" Have you any linseed-meal ? " she 
asked. 

" No." 

" Then . . . but it's too late now, 
any way. . . ." 

And she looked into the sick man's 
eyes again. 

" He's very far gone," thought Mite. 

"Got worse quickly," said Barbara. 

Zalia said nothing ; she stood at the 
foot of the bed, looking at her husband 
and then at the women who were saying 
what they thought of him. 

" Get the blessed candle ; we must 
pray, good people," said Virginie ; and 
she put on her spectacles and went and 
stood with her book under the light. 
306 



The End 

The women knelt on low chairs or on 
the floor. Warten stood with his elbows 
leaning on the rail of the bed, at Zeen's 
head. Treze took the blessed candle out of 
its paper covering and lit it at the lamp. 

Zeen's chest rose and fell and his throat 
rattled painfully ; his eyes stood gazing 
dimly at the rafters of the ceiling ; his thin 
lips were pale and his face turned blue 
with the pain ; he no longer looked like a 
living thing. 

Virgin ie read very slowly, with a dismal, 
drawling voice, through her nose, while 
Treze held Zeen's weak fingers closed 
round the candle. It was still as death. 

" May the Light of the World, Christ 
Jesus, Who is symbolized by this candle, 
brightly light thy eyes that thou mayest 
not depart this life in death everlasting. 
Our Father . . ." 

They softly muttered this Our Father 
and it remained solemnly still, with only 
Warten's rough grunting and Zeen's pain- 
307 



The Path of Life 

ful breathing and the goat which kept 
ramming its head against the wall. And 
then, slower by degrees : 

"Depart, O Christian soul, from this sor- 
rowful world ; go to meet thy dear Bride- 
groom, Christ Jesus, and carry a lighted 
candle in thy hands : He Who ..." 

Then Barbara, interrupting her, whis- 
pered : 

" Look, Virginie, he's getting worse ; 
the rattle's getting fainter : turn over, 
you'll be too late." 

Treze was tired of holding Zeen's hand 
round the candle : she spilt a few drops of 
wax on the rail of the bed and stuck the 
candle on it. 

Zeen jerked himself up, put his hands 
under the clothes and fumbled with them ; 
then he lay still. 

" He's packing up," whispered Barbara. 

" He's going," one of the others 
thought. 

Virginie dipped the palm-branch into 
308 



The End 

the holy water and sprinkled the bed and 
the bystanders ; then she read on : 

" Go forth, O Christian soul, out of this 
world, in the name of God the Father 
Almighty, Who created thee, in the name 
of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, 
Who suffered for thee ; in the name of 
the Holy Ghost, Who sanctified thee." 

" Hurry, hurry, Virginie : he's almost 
stopped breathing ! " 

The cat jumped between Zalia and 
Treze on to the bed and went making 
dough with its front paws on the clothes ; 
it looked surprised at all those people and 
purred softly. Warten drove it away 
with his cap. 

" Receive, O Lord, Thy servant Zeen 
into the place of salvation which he hopes 
to obtain through Thy mercy." 

"Amen," they all answered. 

" Deliver, O Lord, the soul of Thy 
servant from all danger of hell and from 
all pain and tribulation." 
309 



The Path of Life 

" Amen." 

" Deliver, O Lord, the soul of Thy ser- 
vant Zeen, as Thou deliveredst Enoch and 
Elias from the common death of the world." 

" Amen." 

" Deliver, O Lord, the soul of Thy 
servant Zeen, as Thou deliveredst . . ." 

" I'm on fire ! I'm on fire ! " howled 
Warten. " My smock ! My smock ! " 

And he jumped over all the chairs and 
rushed outside, with the others after him. 

" Caught fire at the candle ! " he cried, 
quite out of breath. 

They put out the flames, pulled the 
smock over his head and poured water on 
his back, where his underclothes were 
smouldering. 

" My smock, my smock ! " he went on 
moaning. " Brand-new ! Cost me forty- 
six stuivers ! " 

And he stood with his smock in his 
hands, looking at the huge holes and rents. 

They made a great noise, all together, 
310 



The End 

and their sharp voices rang far and wide 
into the still night. 

Virginia alone had remained by the bed- 
side. She picked up the candle, lit it again, 
put it back on the rail of the bed and then 
went on reading the prayers. When she 
saw that Zeen lay very calmly and no longer 
breathed, she sprinkled him with holy water 
for the last time and then went outside : 

"People . . . he's with the Lord." 

It was as if their fright had made them 
forget what was happening indoors : they 
rushed in, eager to know . . . and Zeen 
was dead. 

" Stone-dead," said Barbara. 

" Hopped the twig ! " said Warten. 

"Quick! Hurry! The tobacco-seed will 
be tainted ! " screamed Mite ; and she 
snatched down two or three linen bags 
which hung from the rafters and carried 
them outside. 

First they moaned ; then they tried to 
comfort one another, especially Zalia, who 

3" 



The Path of Life 

had dropped into a chair and turned very 
pale. 

Then they set to work : Treze filled the 
little glasses ; Barbara hung the water over 
the fire ; and Warten, in his shirt-sleeves, 
stropped his razor to shave Zeen's beard. 

" And the children ! The children who 
are not here!" moaned Zaha. "He ought 
to have seen the children ! " 

" First say the prayers," ordered Vir- 
ginie. 

All knelt down and, while Warten 
shaved the dead man, it went : 

" Come to his assistance, all ye saints of 
God ; meet him, all ye angels of God : 
receiving his soul, offering it in the sight 
of the Most High. . . . 

" To Thee, O Lord, we commend the 
soul of Thy servant, that being dead to 
this world, he may live to Thee ; and 
whatever sins he has committed in this 
life, through human frailty, do Thou, in 
Thy most merciful goodness, forgive. . . ." 
312 



The End 

" Amen," they answered. 

Virginie shut her book, once more 
sprinkled holy water on the corpse and 
went home, praying as she went. 

Zalia made the sign of the Cross and 
closed her husband's eyes ; then she laid 
a white towel on a little table by the bed 
and put the candle on it and the crucifix 
and the holy water. 

Warten and Barbara took Zeen out of 
the bed and put him on a chair, washed him 
all over with luke-warm water, put a clean 
shirt on him and his Sunday clothes over 
him ; then they laid him on the bed 
again. 

"He'll soon begin to must," said Barbara. 

" The weather's warm." 

" He's very bent : how'll they get 
him into the coffin ? " 

" Crack his back." 

Treze looked round for a prayer-book 
to lay under Zeen's chin and a crucifix 
and rosary for his hands. 
313 



The Path of Life 

Mite took a red handkerchief and 
bound it round his head to keep his mouth 
closed. Fietje was still kneeling and 
saying Our Fathers. 

" It's done now," said Barbara, with a 
deep sigh. " We'll have just one more 
glass and then go to bed." 

" Oh, dear people, stay a little longer ! " 
whined Zalla. " Don't leave me here 
alone." 

" It's only," said Mite, " that It'll be 
light early to-morrow and we've had no 
sleep yet." 

" Come, come," said Barbara, to 
comfort her, " you mustn't take on 
now. Zeen has lived his span and has 
died happily in his bed." 

"Question is, shall we do as well?" 
said Mite. 

" And Siska and Romenie and Kor- 
dula and the boys, who are not here ! They 
ought to have seen their father die ! . . . 
The poor children, they'll cry so!" 
314 



The End 

" They'll know it in good time," said 
Warten. 

" And where are they living now ? " 
asked Mite. 

" In France, the two oldest . . . and 
there's Miel, the soldier . . . it's in 
their letters, behind the glass." 

" Give 'em to me," said Treze. " I'll 
make my boy write to-morrow, before 
he goes to school. 

They were going ofF. 

" And I, who, with this all, don't 
know where I'm to sleep," said Warten. 
" My old roost, over the goat-house : 
you'll be wanting that to-night, Zalia?" 

Zalia wavered. 

" Zalia could come with me," said 
Barbara. 

" And leave the house alone ? And 
who's to go to the priest to-morrow ? 
And to the carpenter ? And my harvest, 
my harvest ! Yes, yes, Warten, do you 
get into the goat-house and help me a 
31S 



The Path of Life 

bit to-morrow. I shall sleep : why 
not ? " 

" Alla,^ come, Fietje ; mother's going 
home." 

They went ; and Zalia came a bit of 
the way with them. Their wooden 
shoes clattered softly in the powdery 
sand of the white road ; when they had 
gone very far, their voices still rang 
loud and their figures looked like 
wandering pollards. 

In the east, a thin golden-red streak 
hung between two dark clouds. It was 
very cool. 

" Fine weather to-morrow," said 
Warten ; and he trudged off to his 
goat-house. " Good-night, Zalia." 

" Good-night, Warten." 

" Sleep well." 

" Sleep well too and say another 
Our Father for Zeen." 

" Certainly." 

' A corruption of the French allez ! 
316 



The End 

She went in and bolted the door. 
Inside it all smelt of candle and the 
musty odour of the corpse. She put 
out the fire in the hearth, dipped her 
fingers once more in the holy water and 
made a cross over Zeen. While her 
lips muttered the evening prayers, she 
took off her kerchief, her jacket and 
her cap and let fall her skirt. Then 
she straddled across Zeen and lay right 
against the wall. She twisted her feet 
in her shift and crept carefully under 
the bed-clothes. She shuddered. Her 
thoughts turned like the wind : her 
daughters were in service in France and 
were now sleeping quietly and knew of 
nothing ; her eldest, who was married, 
and her husband and the children came 
only once a year to see their father ; and 
even then . . . And now they would find 
him dead. 

Her harvest , . . and she was alone 
now, to get it in. Warten would go 
317 



The Path of Life 

to the priest early in the morning and 
to the carpenter : the priest ought to 
have been here, 'twas a comfort after 
all ; but Zeen had always been good and 
. . . now to go dying all at once like 
this, without the sacraments. . . . 

Why couldn't she sleep now ? She 
was so tired, so worn out with that 
reaping ; and it was so warm here, so 
stifling and it smelt queer : what a being 
could come to, when he was dead ! 

Had she slept at all ? She had been 
lying there so long . . . and there was 
that smell ! She wished she had sent 
Warten away and gone herself to lie in 
the goat-house ; here, beside that corpse 
. . . but, after all, it was Zeen. . . . 

The flame of the candle flickered and 
everything flickered with it — the loom, 
the black rafters and the crucifix — in 
dark shadow-stripes upon the wall. 
'Twas that kept her awake. She sat 
up and blew from where she was, but 
3i8 



The End 

the flame danced more than ever and 
kept on burning. Then she carefully 
stepped across Zeen and nipped out the 
candle with her fingers. It was dark 
now. . . . She strode back into bed, 
stepping on Zeen's leg ; and the corpse 
shook and the stomach rumbled. She held 
herself tucked against the wall, twisted 
and turned, pinched her eyes to, but 
did not sleep. The smell got into her 
nose and throat and it became very 
irksome, unbearable. And she got out 
of bed again, to open the window. 
A fresh breeze blew into the room ; far 
away beyond, the sky began to brighten ; 
and behind the cornfield she heard the 
singing beat of a sickle and the whistling 
of a sad, drawhng street-ditty : 

" They're at work already." 

Now she lay listening to the whizz- 
ing beat and the rustle of the falling 
corn and that drawling, never-changing 
tune. . . . 

319 



The Path of Life 

The funeral would be the day after 
to-morrow : already she saw all the troop 
passing along the road and then in the 
church and then ... all alone, home 
again. Zeen was dead now and she 
remained . . . and all those children, 
her children, who still had so long to 
live, would also grow old, in their turn, 
and die . . . ever on . . . and all that 
misery and slaving and then to go . . . 
and Zeen, her Zeen, the Zeen of 
yesterday, who was still alive then and 
not ill. Her Zeen ; and she saw him as a 
young man over forty years ago : a hand- 
some chap he was. She had lived so long 
with Zeen and had known him so well, 
better than her own self ; and that he 
should now be lying there beside her 
. . . cold . . . and never again . . . 
that he should now be dead. 

Then she broke down and wept. 

THE END.